WELLINGTON: Despite DHS hints that foreign airports were falling down on the “security theater” job, it appears a few customs officials are more than happy to engage in local versions of “extreme vetting.” New Zealand customs officials are way ahead of the DHS in this department, having turned airports into rights-free zones where nearly anything can happen… to travelers.
According to an investigative report by New Zealand’s 1 news, airport customs officials routinely force up to two travelers each day to give up their electronic devices and passwords for searching. According to the customs agents, the program is designed to look for smugglers by performing a “digital strip search” on the phones and laptops of travelers. This does not require a court order, but the agents do claim to adhere to New Zealand’s privacy act.
Yes, somehow the stripping of someone’s electronic privacy still “adheres” to the privacy act. One would think “smuggling” would be routine criminal act, not worthy of “digital strip searches.” One would also think some sort of reasonable suspicion would be needed to proceed with this, as compared to anti-terrorist activities which usually result in rights-violation blank checks being issued to customs authorities.
The data shows more than 1,300 people have been subjected to these suspicionless “strip searches” since 2015, with less than a third of those being New Zealand citizens. The majority of those searched are foreigners and it appears visitors to the country should somehow expect delays of up to five hours thanks to this supposedly random vetting process.
And there is no option to refuse this additional, highly-invasive search. As Techspot reports, travelers refusing to hand over their electronic devices can be subject to fines of $5,000. That makes it a very expensive trip, especially for foreigners.