Thousands of NZ Airport Passengers forced to surrender device password

Law enforcement authorities at airports in Israel and United States are known for asking for social media details of those visiting their countries. But it looks like New Zealand has been taking notes.

According to 1 News, New Zealand has been facing a new surge of security protocols where the customs at some of New Zealand’s airports forcefully ask incoming travelers to provide passwords to their digital devices as part of a security check.

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All in the name of national security

According to the customs, what has now come to be known as the ‘digital strip,’ is carried out for national security reasons. Essentially, they do so in order to prevent smugglers from entering the country.

Jamie Bamford, the general manager of Intelligence Investigations Customs, stated that the examination of a passenger’s device could be quick or it can take longer than that.

To see exactly how much longer it can be indicated by mentioning the experience of one New Zealander who has been a citizen of the country for almost 30 years.

Ashraf Almoukdad, who is originally from Israel says that the customs took as much as 5 hours to investigate his digital devices. He stated that they made him feel like a terrorist.

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Taking data forcefully

Apart from the fact that the customs sometimes copies the traveler’s data and passes it onto the government agencies for further inspection, the general manager also revealed that the department has all the necessary tools to break into an individual’s device if he/she refuses to provide the password.

Up till now, around 1,350 people have been subject to the digital strip since 2015 with New Zealanders accounting for the majority. That is, of the total, 296 were from New Zealand followed by 269 Chinese. The rest belonged to Taiwan.

The primary airports in which it has taken place are those in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

Whether this behavior is legal is a matter of debate. The customs, however, claims that it carries out the procedures in line with New Zealand’s privacy act.

The proposal to fine those who resist

1 News reports that the Customs has proposed a bill in which passengers who refuse to comply with the customs’ requests shall be fined with a $5,000 penalty.

The right to seek legal advice

Kennedy Graham, MP of the Green Party, says that passengers have the right to seek legal advice before they can allow the officials to pry into their digital devices.

However, it all comes down to practicality as many passengers do not want to go through the hassle of engaging a lawyer for having their private data searched.

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Jahanzaib Hassan