“Digital Strip Searches” Increasing at Borders; Refusal Could Lead to $5K Fine

electronic search

Apparently the era of “digital papers please” is upon us. Earlier this year, in March, I reported on allegations that travelers on domestic flights within the United States had received warrantless requests to inspect their digital devices. The allegations led to an as-yet unresolved lawsuit (to my knowledge) filed by the ACLU of Northern California against the TSA.

While I’m not aware of further reports coming out of the U.S. about demand for digital device searches, New Zealand has now openly declared it as a policy.

Radio New Zealand reports, my emphasis added:

The Customs and Excise Act 2018 – which comes into effect today – sets guidelines around how Customs can carry out “digital strip-searches”.

Previously, Customs could stop anyone at the border and demand to see their electronic devices. However, the law did not specify that people had to also provide a password.

The updated law makes clear that travellers must provide access – whether that be a password, pin-code or fingerprint – but officials would need to have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

“It is a file-by-file [search] on your phone. We’re not going into ‘the cloud’. We’ll examine your phone while it’s on flight mode,” Customs spokesperson Terry Brown said.

If people refused to comply, they could be fined up to $5000 and their device would be seized and forensically searched.

Mr Brown said the law struck the “delicate balance” between a person’s right to privacy and Customs’ law enforcement responsibilities.

“I personally have an e-device and it maintains all my records – banking data, et cetera, et cetera – so we understand the importance and significance of it.”

Aside from the invasion of personal privacy, access to banking is an interesting point to introduce. In fact, this could greatly impact the ability to travel with cryptocurrency between borders. The rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies stored on digital devices as “wallets” as a safe means of traveling with large funds across borders makes this ruling particularly “Draconian,” according to Bitcoin.com:

While preventing terrorists and other dangerous criminals from gaining entry is a justifiable reason for profiling and potentially searching new arrivals, it’s also used as a dragnet exercise. From cypherpunks to activists, anyone deemed vaguely anti-government – despite presenting no physical threat to the state – are prone to being hauled up for interrogation. Laptop inspected. Cell phone scrutinized. And now, password demanded.


News.Bitcoin.com has previously published guides on protecting your privacy and concealing your affinity for cryptocurrency when traveling abroad to avoid scrutiny. While owning cryptocurrency is not illegal, it may be enough to invite an enhanced search. Should customs agents subsequently uncover a digital wallet holding a large amount of crypto, law-abiding travelers could find themselves facing some tough questions under the assumption of “Guilty until proven innocent”.

As we have seen across the digital spectrum, whether it is with biometric databases, or various facial recognition systems being implemented, the use of privacy-invading technology in one area seems to set a precedent for expansion – especially as news of “digital strip searches” comes from another so-called democratic nation.

As more of our lives become integrally tied to our digital devices and by extension to our social media profiles, the increased intrusion by authorities has become an integral part of the process as well.

Have you encountered a request to see your devices during your travels? We would love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Also Read: Social Media Now Being Used by Police and Intelligence Agencies to Collect Biometrics

Nicholas West writes for Activist Post. Support us at Patreon for as little as $1 per month. Support us at Patreon. Follow us on Minds, Steemit, SoMee, BitChute, Facebook and Twitter. Ready for solutions? Subscribe to our premium newsletter Counter Markets.