New Zealand can now fine you for not unlocking your phone

New Zealand airport

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WE’RE CONSTANTLY reminded to keep our passwords secure but if you’re traveling to New Zealand, you’d now be legally bound by a law that dictates you must hand over access to your electronic devices – or face a fine for refusing.

The “digital strip search” came into effect on Oct 1, 2018, under the 2018 Customs and Excise Act.

If visitors to the “Land of the Long White Cloud” fail to cooperate, they could face a US$3,250 (NZD5000) fine, prosecution and have their device confiscated.

But don’t panic because if you don’t have anything to hide, customs won’t have a need to search your phone.

The Act can only be enforced with an official warrant, which will only be issued if there is a considerable reason for suspicion.

“Customs must now satisfy specific legal thresholds before they can search the digital content of an electronic device when processing passengers or crew,” states the updated Act.

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New Zealand is currently the only nation to enforce such a rule.

“We’re not aware of any other country that has legislated for the potential of a penalty to be applied if people do not divulge their passwords,” New Zealand Customs spokesperson Terry Brown said in an interview with TVNZ.

“I personally have an e-device and it maintains all my records – banking data, et cetera, et cetera – so we understand the importance and significance of it.”

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But not everyone is convinced Brown and his colleagues fully understand the gravity of the new legislation.

The Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) issued a statement about their concerns, referring to the act as a “grave invasion of privacy.”

“Modern smartphones contain a large amount of highly sensitive private information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos, and very personal photos,” CCL spokesperson Thomas Beagle said.

“The reality of this law is that it gives Customs the power to take and force the unlock of peoples smartphones without justification or appeal,” he added.

The new law is also upsetting some netizens and deterring others from visiting the nation.

So they took to Twitter to express their concerns.

The New Zealand Customs Service has identified the transition from paper to digital documents and wants to ensure travelers aren’t in possession of illegal material.

While the definition of “reasonable suspicion” hasn’t yet been laid out, being suspected of possessing objectionable material or child pornography, or committing drugs offences or financial crimes will require you to hand your phone over.

But, if you having nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.