(CNN)Rights groups have denounced a new law in New Zealand under which travelers can be fined thousands of dollars if they refuse to allow border officials access to their phone.
Under the Customs and Excise Act 2018, which came into force this week, officials will be able to demand travelers unlock any electronic device so it can be searched. Anyone who refuses can face prosecution and a fine of up to $3,200 (5,000 NZD).
Officials can also retain devices and potentially confiscate them from travelers who refuse to allow a search at the border.
The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) described the new law as a “grave invasion of personal privacy of both the person who owns the device and the people they have communicated with.”
“Modern smartphones contain a large amount of highly sensitive private information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos, and very personal photos,” the group’s chairman Thomas Beagle said in a statement.
“The reality of this law is that it gives Customs the power to take and force the unlock of peoples smartphones without justification or appeal — and this is exactly what Customs has always wanted.”
Privacy Foundation New Zealand said members had expressed concern to the government during the consultation process about the retention of passwords by border officials and the safeguards on searches of devices.
A spokeswoman for New Zealand Customs said the change to the law was necessary as “the shift from paper-based systems to electronic systems has meant that the majority of prohibited material and documents are now stored electronically.”
Invasion of privacy
While customs officials in multiple countries are permitted by law to search travelers devices, New Zealand is the first country to introduce a fine for those who refuse to hand over passwords or pin numbers to enable this.