A new law enacted in New Zealand could fine tourists over $3,000 for not handing over their cell phone passwords at the border.
Unlocking your cell phone for border guards is something that a few Americans are already familiar with. Border agents can ask that any traveler unlock their phone and hand it over for inspection. Failure to comply can result in a more comprehensive search or even the confiscation of your phone.
But they can’t fine you for not providing your password. However, border agents in New Zealand will now be able to fine you to the tune of 5,000 NZ dollars, or about $3,200 USD.
The Customs and Excise Act of 2018 went into effect on Monday, October 1st, and gives New Zealand’s border agents the power to request travelers to unlock their cell phones for inspection. However, that’s a power that won’t be exercised until agents already suspect a traveler of attempting to smuggle something into or out of the country.
If an agent suspects a traveler of holding contraband, then they’ll be taken aside for additional searching. That’s when the agent can request the person’s cell phone password. If they refuse, they’ll be taken in for additional questioning and fined $3,200. They’ll also have their cell phone confiscated.
And it’s not just for foreigners, native New Zealanders also face the same level of scrutiny. Privacy rights groups, including the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties, have denounced the bill as a dangerous breach of privacy.
Thomas Beagle, chairperson of the council, issued a statement saying the new legislation “is a grave invasion of personal privacy of both the person who owns the device and the people they have communicated with."
The council additionally argues that the fine will be ineffective at stopping actual criminals, who would merely pay the fine, and will instead force law-abiding citizens to hand over their passwords to avoid having their cell phones confiscated.
Although many countries allow for the search of cell phones at the border, New Zealand is the first country to fine travelers for not providing authorities with passwords. Whether or not other countries follow suit is an open-ended question.