Travellers arriving in New Zealand could face a stark choice at the airport: turn over the passwords to their mobile electronic devices to customs officials or pay a hefty fine.
The New York Times reported October 2, 2018 that New Zealand law allows border agents to search cellphones, laptops, and other devices carried into the country by visitors and citizens alike. Travellers who refuse to unlock their devices for inspection or divulge their passwords face fines of more than $3,000.
No other country is known to impose a financial penalty for such noncompliance, although many — including the United States — assert the right to search electronic devices carried over borders for evidence of terrorism or other banned activities.
Civil liberties and privacy advocates call such searches invasive. “Many of us are carrying competitive data, industry data, intelligence information or intellectual property, as well as personal items, on our phones,” said Katina Michael, a professor at the University of Wollongong in Australia who specializes in surveillance issues. “Smartphones have become an extension of our very selves.”
New Zealand officials said searches are limited to files downloaded on devices, not Internet search histories or documents and data saved on cloud-based servers, and that border agents would need to have reasonable suspicion of possible criminal activity in order to conduct a search.