In the latest push towards a big brother state, the New Zealand Customs is requesting the power to demand traveler’s laptop and smartphone passwords without a warrant while going through border security. The suggested punishment for not complying? 3 months imprisonment.
The reasoning behind such an invasive law change is to help in the detection of objectionable material, evidence of offending, evidence of links to terrorism or to confirm travel plans. Currently under the Customs and Excise Act, Customs have the power to access smartphones and laptops only after getting a warrant, while under normal circumstances travelers are not legally obliged to provide a password or encryption key.
Customs also wants to increase the use of biometric data collection, moving us closer to the Five-Eyes network partners Australia, Britain and the United States with their obsession with collection and surveillance of all data.
Tech Liberty co-founder and NZ Council for Civil Liberties chairman Thomas Beagle is concerned about the privacy implications.
“People travel across borders with their personal laptops, particularly if they are not criminals, and they have got all their medical records, their personal files, they may have very personal photos they took with their partner, for example.
“I worry they [Customs] are seeing themselves more as a spy at the border on behalf of general law enforcement, not just for Customs purposes. Customs has long been suspected of exceeding its powers to do searches on behalf of the Police,” he claims.
Mr Beagle has a valid point. In December 2013, 27 year old law graduate Sam Blackman had an iPad, two smart phones, an external hard drive and laptop confiscated as he went through Customs at Auckland Airport. Passwords for each device were also demanded from a Customs official. When Sam asked why the items were being confiscated, the official refused to say – or to say how long the items would be kept.
Sam believes all this was brought on by attending a mass surveillance meeting held in London, sparked by the Snowden revelations.
Customs later found nothing of relevance and returned the devices, which leaves us to believe this was more about sending a message rather than ‘security’.
The Greens information and communications technology spokesman Gareth Hughes has voiced strong opposition to the proposed changes.
“Customs can already access travellers’ electronic devices if they get a warrant, such as for anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism purposes or other suspected criminal activities. No agency should be able to demand access to private information without a very good reason.”
We agree, and believe the proposed changes are completely flawed from the outset. Anyone with anything to hide isn’t going to have it accessible on a laptop available for Police inspection, and will instead choose to store it in the cloud using a service such as DropBox and download again once they have cleared security.
This is yet another example of blatant invasion into the privacy and human rights of ordinary New Zealand citizens, all in the name of so-called security. George Orwell’s book ’1984′ is a must read for those who haven’t yet. It shows the Orwellian society New Zealand is slowly becoming as we follow the US led Five-Eyes network into a dark future where intensive police monitoring and zero privacy becomes the norm. 1984 was meant to be a warning to the people, not a guidebook for governments to create a surveillance state.