Customs powers need limits and Nicky Wagner should know this

Nicky WagnerCustoms Minister Nicky Wagner has issued a discussion paper on changes to the Customs and Excise Act.”The Government initiated the review of the Customs and Excise Act due to the legislation’s inability to efficiently respond to changes in technology and business practice.”

However Nicholas Jones at the NZ Herald says Customs is seeking new powers including requiring a person to provide a password or access to their electronic devices.

The agency has also floated other possibilities including collection of biometric information and making passengers empty their pockets if asked by an officer, even if there is no reasonable suspicion. Currently, when Customs examines a person’s electronic device the owner is not legally obliged to provide a password or encryption key.

It is relatively uncommon for people to refuse to provide this, Customs notes in the discussion paper, but “the number who refuse may increase as technology continues to develop”. If people do refuse, Customs notes it “can mean we have no way of uncovering evidence of criminal offending even when we know the device holds this evidence”.

It appears to me that there needs to be an attitude adjustment in Customs, where the prevailing mood seems to be that in order to pass through their system, citizens must yield every traditional right to individual freedom that ever existed, including the very important one of never being stopped and searched without good reason.

If the Police are not permitted these powers, why should they be granted to Customs?

Meanwhile in Quebec, a man (Alain Philippon) has recently been charged with obstructing border officials by refusing to give up his smartphone password. The Canadian Customs wouldn’t say why Philippon was selected for a smartphone search. He has been released on bail, and will have to return to court in May.

Rob Currie, director of the Law and Technology Institute at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, said the issue of whether a traveller must reveal a password to an electronic device at the border hasn’t been tested by a court.

Here we have yet another situation where the National Party dances to the tune of the bureaucracy rather than the people who voted for it. Nicky Wagner should be taking a firm stand against suspicion-less searches. Will she? Unlikely. The National Party has frequently proved it doesn’t give a damn for such issues and my money says these losers will cave in to an out of control bureaucracy once again.



Categories: Culture, NZ Politics

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7 replies

  1. It would be a gross invasion of privacy. Our electronic devices increasingly hold huge amounts of personal information that neither Customs nor the Police have any need to know. Why should some trumped-up Customs Nazi at the airport have access to review every aspect of my life. My personal laptop holds information about my (legal) hobbies, photos of my children, mdeical notes, and the addresses, phone numbers and emails for nearly everyone in my steet (members of the local neighborhood watch). No-one requires access to this information and I shouldn’t have to provide access to it simply for wanting to travel unimpeded from point A to point B. I’m disgusted by the proposal and disgusted by Wagner’s failure to condemn it outright.

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    • It seems as if Customs are now operating as a branch of the Police Force when really their role should be confined to customs and excise issues.

      There needs to be a much clearer definition of what role they actually play, and it should be restricted to their original purpose which was to ensure people paid tax on stuff and did not bring in fruit flies etc.

      The problem is that we have lost sight of the important traditions that made us a civilised country.

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      • It’s like they’re trying to morph into the New Zealand equivalent of the U.S Department of Homeland Security.

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        • It already has, remember the Dotcom case the email requesting any information on him so that they could earn brownie points with the US administration.

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  2. What I find interesting is that same people who think it is unacceptable for the Government to spy on us and to allow and facilitate other Countries to spy on us.

    With the rather sad excuse that if you are doing nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear. All in the interests of perceived safety.

    Are incensed at the thought that they may have to voluntarily give access to their personal devices under threat of prosecution.

    News flash if they have connected to any network phone, email, websites, etc then all the information has already been hovered up en mass, and is being stored for as long as possible.

    There devices probably already have male-ware that gives access to probably every spy network Worldwide.

    There phone companies and phone providers have already been compromised and the encryption keys and other network keys have already been handed over to whoever.

    You can be tracked and traced continuously.

    All major websites Windows, Mac, Google, you tube, g mail etc have had to give unfettered access to whoever.

    We should all be very concerned about our lack of privacy and the right to it.

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    • I agree. The surveillance that is being carried out today is a a travesty and it has to be stopped. They justify it in the name of keeping the law abiding safe, but its really only necessary because Western politicians are too cowardly and weak to fight terrorism as they should. By taking it to the terrorists and those who shield them.

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      • The real threat to any Government is not criminals or terrorists.

        In the overall scheme of things they are irrelevant. But useful as a distraction.

        The real threat to any Government is the general population. Every tin pot dictator upward knows that. You have to control and pacify the population. least the people turn on you.

        The most effective way is to create distractions, like crime and terrorism. Every now and then, these distractions get out of control and become a very real threat.

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