Seeing as I just came back from that part of the world a week ago, news that New Zealand Customs officials wanting to have the power to compel travelers to hand over passwords to electronic devices as well as encryption keys. The thing that has got people upset is that they would not require reasonable suspicion to do so. Though the person who runs NZ Customs says that’s not its intention. Here’s what New Zealand Customs Services chief executive Carolyn Tremain had to say:
“The reality is we have 11 million people crossing the border and a limited amount of resources which we are always going to prioritise by taking a risk-assessment approach. We are not saying every 10th person would be inspected.”
She also goes on to say that countries including Canada do this now. My understanding is that in Canada, this is only done if there are reasonable and probable grounds to do so. So it’s not quite the same thing. But perhaps someone in the know could clarify this.
Here’s why this isn’t going to have the desired effect for New Zealand or anyone else who thinks this is a good idea. People will just travel with clean computers, smartphones, etc, and download anything they need while in the country from their Dropbox account or some other cloud service. Or they will back up their laptop or smartphone to the cloud, wipe the devices, cross the border, and restore it in their hotel room. That’s very easy to do these days. Either way, Customs will never see it and they will not stop a single evil doer.
Now I don’t have a problem if you give customs officials the ability to get access to laptops and smartphones when you suspect that someone has done something wrong. But to have the blanket ability to do so is the wrong approach. New Zealand really needs to rethink this as it’s really not a good idea.