With news this week Customs is looking to review its powers at the border came the surprising facts that they can't already insist on passwords to devices, and they can't make someone turn out their pockets without "reasonable cause to suspect a person has hidden certain items".

Given the extent to which New Zealand authorities are reported to be spying by intercepting communications, in the name of security, it's interesting to note that travellers are generally free to waltz into our country carrying who knows what.

Customs is looking to change this, understandably. It is seeking new powers including requiring a person to provide a password or access to their electronic devices. Other possibilities include collection of biometric information and making passengers empty their pockets if asked by an officer, even if there is no reasonable suspicion.

The latter option would seem to make sense - crossing an international border should come with the expectation you could be searched.


But in this day and age, it does seem strange that travellers should have to provide passwords or access to their electronic devices.

Customs Minister Nicky Wagner said the current act, passed nearly 20 years ago, needed an update. She's right - any legislation involving technology needs to be able to acknowledge the rapid advancement of that technology.

Ms Wagner said Customs needed to be able to access electronic devices to stop objectionable material coming into the country. These changes would not stop that.

Considering the internet is already awash with objectionable material of the kind Customs would want to keep out of our country, it seems over the top to focus on travellers' devices, full of sensitive and personal material including, as the Council for Civil Liberties notes, "their medical records, their personal files, they may have very personal photos they took with their partner ..." - all very legal and all very private.

Yes, technology has advanced markedly and our laws need to reflect that, but that advancement also means more of our personal selves are on devices and online. Any unnecessary intrusion would be overly invasive.

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