Customs laws in New Zealand now allow border agents to demand travellers unlock their phones or face an NZ$5,000 (around US$3,300) fine.
The law was passed during 2017 with its provisions coming into effect on October 1. The security conscious of you will also be pleased to know Kiwi officials still need a “reasonable” suspicion that there's something to find.
As the country's minister of Justice Andrew Little explained to a parliamentary committee earlier this year:
“The bill provides for that power of search and examination, but in order to exercise that power, a customs officer, first of all, has to be satisfied, or at least to have a reasonable suspicion, that a person in possession of such a device—it would be a cellphone or a laptop or anything else that might be described as an 'e-device'—has been involved in criminal offending.
That's somewhat tighter than the rules that apply in America. Border Patrol agents can take a look at phones without giving any reason, but in January this year, a new directive stipulated that a "reasonable suspicion" test applies if the agent wants to copy anything from a phone.
Like the American regulation, New Zealand's searchers are limited to files held on the phone. A Customs spokesperson told Radio New Zealand “We're not going into 'the cloud'. We'll examine your phone while it's on flight mode”.
According to Radio NZ, the Council of Civil Liberties criticised the “reasonable cause” protection as inadequate, because someone asked to unlock a device isn't told what that cause might be, and therefore has no way to challenge the request.
Last year, Kiwi Customs searched just 540 devices at the border, and has said it doesn't expect that to grow. ®