New Zealand Ushers in the Era of the Digital Strip Search
The New Zealand Customs and Excise Act has officially gone into effect as of October 1st, 2018. Under the new law, passengers entering New Zealand will be required to hand over digital device passwords on phones, laptops, and external media if customs require they be searched.
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Electronic Device Data No Longer Safe
Tucked away neatly in the four-hundred-plus page Customs and Excise Act is new language that has digital currency enthusiasts scratching their heads and others outraged.
Specifically, the language within New Zealand’s updated custom legislation declares that as of October 1st, a customs officer now has the power to make a “full search of a stored value instrument” including the power to “require a user of the instrument to provide access information and other information or assistance that is reasonable and necessary to allow a person to access the instrument”.
Breaking the legalize into standard English, customs agents by an extension of reasonable cause can not only demand your phone or computer but the passwords and encryption keys that allow unlimited access to them.
Searches at the Full Discretion of Customs Officers
Additionally, they now have the ability to copy, review, and confiscate those devices to conduct a further search if the initial search conducted by the customs agent indicates a need. Anyone refusing to comply with these new rules risks a fine of up to NZ$5,000 or refusal of entry into the country.
As organizations focused on preserving the liberties of citizens throughout the world try to decode the motives for an act that is so invasive, one cannot deny the impact that digital currencies such as bitcoin may have had on the authors of the Customs and Excise Act.
Digital currencies have exploded in popularity, and to comply with the Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act this may be the first example of governments fighting back in the only way they know how.
An Invasion of Privacy of the Highest Order
Privacy Commission John Edwards expanded on his thoughts over the controversial bill and how it is very similar to the current process of allowing access to all your physical belongings:
“There’s a good balance between ensuring that our borders are protected … and [those people] are not subject to unreasonable search of their devices. You know when you come into the country that you can be asked to open your suitcase and that a Customs officer can look at everything in there.”
Regardless of the merits the act, digital currency evangelists such as Andreas Antonopoulos spoke out against this new law and even declared that he will be striking New Zealand off his list of destinations to visit in the near future:
It was nice visiting New Zealand twice. Pity I won't be going back… In today's society this kind of orwellian bullshit is unacceptable. https://t.co/9PIZAJHK8T
— Andreas M. Antonopoulos (@aantonop) October 1, 2018
Other Countries Considering Enacting the Same Laws
In what looks like a sign of things to come, the U.S., Britain, and Australia–along with New Zealand–recently warned technology firms they will demand lawful access to all encrypted communications mechanisms that have spread in recent years.
The so-called group of Five Eyes nations–the aforementioned four plus Canada–are doing everything within their power to protect their citizens, even if that entails requiring access to encrypted communications, whether that be voice calls, messages, or emails.
It remains to be seen if other nations adopt the same digital strip search laws that New Zealand has recently adopted. But if they do, citizens will have another reason to worry when passing through security, as they will have to open up their digital devices where the scope of the search may have no boundaries.
Do you think New Zealand will be the only country to enforce digital searches at borders? Who else might be interested in searching visitors’ digital devices? Does this announcement disgust you?
Images via Pixabay