New Zealand visitors face fines for not unlocking secure or personal devices

2018-10-08 09:30
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New Zealand visitors face fines for not unlocking secure or personal devices. (Photo: iStock)

Visitors to New Zealand can be fined 5 000 New Zealand dollars (NZD) (or about R48 056 @R9.61/NZD) for refusing to provide passwords to unlock electronic devices and allow customs officials to examine them under a new law that a civil liberties group on Thursday condemned as a grave invasion of privacy.

The law came into effect on October 1 as part of an update of 22-year-old customs legislation. It also gives customs officials authority to copy data found on searched devices.

READ: SA travellers affected as New Zealand plans to tax tourists, increase immigration and visa fees  

"The travelling public is unlikely to notice much difference at the border," the New Zealand Customs Service said in a statement last week.

But the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties said the law gives customs officials the power to force travellers to unlock their smartphones without justification, and without legal options for travellers to challenge an order to enter a password.

"Modern smartphones contain a large amount of highly sensitive private information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos, and very personal photos," council spokesman Thomas Beagle said in a statement. 

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"Allowing customs to be able to demand the right to examine and capture all this information is a grave invasion of personal privacy of both the person who owns the device and the people they have communicated with," Beagle said.

Beagle questioned whether the intrusion would catch criminals, who would prefer to pay the fine than expose evidence that could lead to prison.

Criminals could also store their data in the cloud, travel with a wiped phone and restore the data once they passed customs, he said.

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SA e-Visa pilot in New Zealand in 2019

South Africa is in the process of introducing an e-visa  system to improve access for tourists and significantly contribute to tourism to South Africa.

A pilot will be implemented in New Zealand in April 2019. This is significant in that South Africa introduced a visa requirement in 2016, after New Zealand restricted travel for SA citizens. The result had seen a 17% drop in travellers to SA from New Zealand in 2017. Read more about SA’s recent visa changes and requirements here.

Read more about SA's recent visa changes and travel requirements here

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