An Australian Border Force (ABF) officer examining the Malaysian man's baggage at Perth International Airport. (Photo: Australian Border Force)
Airport customs officials are entitled to search the contents on your phone and if the information is found to be suspect - even if it was sent to you unsolicited - it could mean cancellation of your tourist visa and having to head straight back to where you come from.
Carrying incriminating digital information on cellphones recently came to light when a Malaysian tourist was kicked out of Australia after videos showing "extreme sexual depravity and horrific violence" were found on his phone during a routine baggage check at Perth airport.
AFP reports the 43-year-old man, who was not named, arrived on a flight from Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, 11 July when the shocking material was discovered.
He was held in immigration detention and sent home Friday, 13 July, after his tourist visa was cancelled and his phone confiscated.
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Australian Border Force regional commander for Western Australia Mark Wilson said the images were abhorrent and contravened Australian regulations, without going into details of what was depicted.
"Videos depicting extreme sexual depravity and acts of horrific violence are not acceptable in our community and anyone caught engaging in this behaviour risks forfeiting their right to be here," AFP quoted.
The Malaysian man arriving at Perth International Airport on Wednesday, 11 July. (Photo: Australian Border Force)
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Can border control sift through your digi-luggage?
Long story short, yes they can.
However, they would need viable and probable cause to do so. According to the New York Times, agents at US border control can't necessarily force you to open or unlock your phone or laptop, but can ask you to voluntarily comply.
If you decide to resist, they can make the entire experience rather unpleasant.
How can you avoid becoming a digi-bandit?
There are a few things you can do to avoid having your phone confiscated while travelling abroad should they insist on checking your devices:
- If a friend or anybody sends you a viral video, suggestive photos of themselves (awkward Tinder interactions do happen), even if explicit content is sent to you just for the shock value, it could be incriminating if left on your device. Delete. Delete. Delete.
- Minimise your data - the best way to avoid having your devices and data compromised is to not carry it. If you have sensitive work information or contracts subject to non-disclosure agreements, upload the bulk of your data, sensitive or personal information to a cloud or online drive. Only have the basics or necessities on your devices while travelling through airport security. It helps having digital copies of all your important travel documents including accommodation and itinerary bookings.
- Lock down your devices - If you have to travel with sensitive information that could see breach of privacy, then deny yourself access. Enable two-factor authentication to avoid digi-intrusion. It requires both your password as well as the entry of a code SMS'd to your device and if you happen to not have the SIM card on you or in the phone, this hinders the ability to unlock the phone yourself.
- If your phone, laptop or tablet does get swiped by customs for checking, don't make intrusion easy. Encrypt your hard drive with tools (like BitLocker, TrueCrypt, or Apple's Filevault) and choose a strong passphrase.
- Phone home - seriously, pull an ET and call home before entering and after leaving customs. Should your phone be confiscated in customs or you are detained, you might not be able to access your devices or the outside world for a while. So, call your family or a family lawyer in case things go awry within customs.
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