Travellers face $5000 fine if they refuse a ‘digital strip-search’

Long Lunch 02/10/2018

Some travellers may be expected to provide their phone or laptops passwords to Customs NZ, otherwise, they could face a hefty fine.

Anyone refusing to hand over their devices and passwords could be fined up to $5,000, and have their devices seized and forensically searched.

“The failure to divulge that password gives us reasonable cause to believe (which is a high threshold) that the device contains relevant evidential material,” said Customs spokesperson Terry Brown.

Launched on Monday, the Customs and Excise Act 2018 clarifies the thresholds in which Customs can search data available on digital devices.

“We have the ability to carry out a preliminary search, so the officer must have reasonable suspect that the person in possession of the device is involved in relevant criminal offending,” said Mr Brown. 

According to Mr Brown, body language and personal demeanour may be considered in determining if there’s a reasonable cause for searching.

Before the change in legislation, Customs was permitted to stop anyone and request to see their devices. But the legislation fell short of requiring travellers to provide a password.

Mr Brown told RadioLIVE that officers are looking for anything from suspected child exploitation to potential terrorist activity. 

Customs will be required to provide Parliament with the number of devices searched every year. 

Listen to the full interview with Terry Brown above.

The Long Lunch with Wendyl Nissen, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.