New Zealand has become the first country in the world to fine visitors who refuse to divulge passwords for their electronic devices when asked by authorities, the country’s border officials say.
Under new regulations, travellers who refuse to comply with the requirement could face prosecution and fines of more than AU$4,180, SBS reported.
“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,” said NZ Customs spokesman Terry Brown said.
According to Mr Brown, officials believe the new fine is an “appropriate remedy” for balancing privacy and national security.
NZ authorities were already legally able to search phones and other devices - as they would luggage - for suspicious content.
But the new law takes a step further by compelling travellers to open their devices for inspections where it mightn’t be necessary.
University of Wollongong professor and surveillance issues expert Katina Michael said that although most countries already allowed for the confiscation of suspicious devices, the new fines in New Zealand added a “scare factor” to pressure people who don’t know their legal rights.
“Many of us are carrying competitive data, industry data, intelligence information or intellectual property, as well as personal items, on our phones,” she said.
“Smartphones have become an extension of our very selves.”
NZ’s Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Thomas Beagle told Radio New Zealand that what constituted “reasonable suspicion” was also ambiguous.
According to SBS, NZ customs officials don’t expect the number of searches to grow more than the 537 inspections carried out in 2017.
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