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What are we America now?

Written By: - Date published: 10:24 am, March 20th, 2017 - 58 comments
Categories: human rights, im/migration, law - Tags: , , , ,

What is going on here? ONE News last night:

Exclusive: Syrian Kiwis forced into giving passwords, underwear searched by NZ Customs

Syrian-born Kiwis say they are being subjected to intrusive and unnecessary searches as they return home from overseas.

1 News has talked to a number of individuals who have been detained at Auckland airport, often for hours at a time. They’ve been forced to hand over their phones and laptops – and ordered to surrender passwords to social media accounts.

As quoted later in the piece, the Customs and Excise Act 1996 allows for the search of goods and devices. I’m not aware of any legal basis for compelling the surrender of social media passwords. (I am not a lawyer, if anyone knows of such, please do comment below.) If there is such a law then we’re as bad as Donald Trump. If there isn’t, then what the hell is border control doing, and who is going to put a stop to it?

Samer Soud has been stopped and detained six times since 2015 as he returned home from visiting his 28-year-old son Martin in Sydney.

On three of those occasions he’s been forced to hand over his devices, and he says his wife Evelyn was left embarrassed and furious after border guards trawled through her underwear. … Customs staff also asked for details about his son. “I have to answer every question, you know – what does he do, where he lives, his work address, his phone numbers … Does he live alone?”

Mr Soud says it’s an “awful feeling” when officers go through their belongings. “I don’t mind them looking at anything because I’ve got nothing to hide…[but] it’s frustrating me and it’s a degrading really, you become humiliated and they’re looking through your private stuff, you know – especially you have some memories, photos you don’t want anyone else to see, you know. And my wife’s wardrobe, you know, all of private stuff there and they go through everything in detail.”

He says he’s given “no choice” but to hand over passwords to What’s App, Facebook and his mobile phone. “If you say no they tell you – in the beginning – don’t make it hard on yourself.” …

The piece covers a similar example, and a statement from Customs:

In a statement, a spokesman for Customs said: “We use intelligence information and risk-based profiling to identify passengers that may need further questioning. This could be for a range of reasons, such as establishing their visit is genuine, or risk assessing for offending such as smuggling drugs, weapons, child exploitation images, identity fraud, or to determine if they may pose a threat to New Zealand’s national security.

“Extensive screening is carried out using data and technology to identify those who might pose a risk before interacting with passengers – the number of passengers searched is very low.

Fewer than 10,000 out of 5.4 million arriving passengers (less than 0.2 %) have their bags examined, and not all of these people have their electronic devices examined.

“A range of indicators are considered when deciding to interact with passengers — from nationality (to determine if a passenger has originated travel in, or passed through, a region of risk), through to body language and general demeanour. Customs does not profile passengers based on religion or belief.”

Nationality doesn’t tell you “if a passenger has originated travel in, or passed through, a region of risk”, nationality tells you nationality. No matter what the disclaimer, profiling is always open to abuse. This needs an investigation, and if some officers are crossing the line, it needs to be dealt with quickly.

58 comments on “What are we America now?”

  1. Bill 1

    The underwear part of the headline by One News is just plain stupid. If your luggage is being searched, then your underwear will be searched as a part of that.

    Being subjected to questioning around the who, where and why of you and your travel is also just par for the course if customs haul you over.

    But the passwords. Whether they are ordering or ‘suggesting’ that be turned over is kind of beside the point. It’s bullshit that customs should have their faces rubbed in.

    • Sabine 1.1

      well it depends, if she is still menstruating she might be embarrassed if they go through her sanitary pads, her tampons, her ‘menstruating undies’ her ‘adult depends’ etc etc etc.
      Again, what was not said is if it was a female of a male doing the search.

      Modesty is a different thing for everyone.

      i.e., when i fly, i will arrive at the airport with no shoes on, they are in my bag, i will wear no bra, no watch, no bracelet, no rings etc etc. I will wear a singlet type top and a skirt with no pockets.
      Like literally i would rather go naked through that gate then have any of these mongrels lay hands on me.
      I also don’t have a phone on me, nor a laptop. And i have been traveling like that since 9/11 and i have been travelling a lot.

      • Bill 1.1.1

        I’m not claiming it isn’t invasive or demeaning. And I’m not saying it’s okay. I’m saying it’s par for the course.

        • Sabine 1.1.1.1

          It is, but you are operating from a Man Standard.

          simple as that. Just every now and then dear men please understand that while it is par for the course, it is not the quite the same, and what is invasive or ‘demeaning’ for you is invasive, demeaning and embarrassing for women – cause women.

          • weka 1.1.1.1.1

            I’m guessing it’s how the search is being done. I would agree there are gender and ethnicity issues here, as well as authoritarian ones.

          • Bill 1.1.1.1.2

            Fuck off with your clap trap Sabine. “Man Standard” my arse. Where you get this notion that there’s a fucking hierarchy of ‘invasive and demeaning’ that’s going to have women at the fucking apex as a default?

            Wanna be a cripple going through with shit stained underwear, nappies or all the trappings of a colostomy bag or whatever? Or how about try it as a secretive cross dresser? What about a crippled secret cross dresser?

            You want to take a million other variations and construct a hierarchy of personal levels of “invasive and demeaning”?

            ‘Par for the course’ means it gets landed on everyone and is just an observation. It doesn’t mean anything beyond that and has no value judgement or fuck all else attached.

            • Sabine 1.1.1.1.2.1

              there is a standard that is based on Man. mainly i guess because the standards of our lifes are set by men. that is not clap trap, that is i guess life.
              Only if it affects men is it an issue, all others need to harden up. Or something.

              Also i fixed your typo:

              cause a a cripple going through with shit stained underwear, nappies or all the trappings of a colostomy bag or whatever, would be equally embarrased. Or how about try it as a secretive cross dresser, would be equally embarrased to be shown to wear ladies clothes instead of man clothes.
              What about a crippled secret cross dresser – see above.

              and your example is shite cause they are not ‘fully men’ in the eyes of many man. Especially not the secret cross dressers who is also handicapped.

              • Bill

                Yeah – nah. You’re comment claimed I was doing a “man standard” thing . You didn’t introduce the idea in anything like general terms.

                You can make whatever claims about ‘many’ men viewing cripples as lesser (I didn’t suggest any gender for that example btw, but hey). And you can opine that cross-dressers are not “fully men” in the eyes of some men (and ignore the prejudice of some women).

                And on and on.

                But to have straight off the bat jumped to a clutch of bullshit opinions about me and why I might have written a particular comment was just plain crap.

                • Sabine

                  what i am saying is that a healthy man, who is not a cross dresser, who is not handicapped,etc etc will have less issues having his smalls inspected then maybe a women who is lactating or is having her period.

                  that is the man standard. If it does not apply to man it does not matter.
                  I don’t hold this against you personally, i think really it is just simply something that man don’t often think about, because well they don’t have to think about it.
                  Like the needs for sanitary napkins, or tampons, or access to a bathroom because you are leaking breastmilk or blood.

                  As for your examples above, women too can be handicapped and have the same issues as handicapped men.

                  So i have not bat jumped to a clutch of bullshit opinions about you, but i have commented on what for you means little (without any malice attached) – and i assume you are an able bodied man (that i do) – but might mean a lot to a women of a certain age, a certain education, and certain stages of bodily needs that man don’t have nor will ever have.

                • Guerilla Surgeon

                  You weren’t doing the man standard thing – you were simply mansplaining.

                  • Bill

                    That’s right. I wasn’t doing any ‘man standard’ thing. And I wasn’t ‘mansplaining’ either.

                    But given the lack of sarc tag on your comment, I’m taking you as being a fucking idiot…and just a little bit trolly on the side.

                    I’d suggest you just quietly pack it in and fuck off, or alternatively just hope I don’t catch you indulging in similar crap when my mod hat’s on.

                    • Guerilla Surgeon

                      What? That’s your reply to a comment on your bullshit? Fuck you on the plane you flew in on, and mod away. I don’t comment very often on here, often when I see idiocy disguised as comment. So I don’t give a toss if I’m modded, banned or whatever the fuck. I’ve been banned by the best i.e. whale oil. So – talk to someone who gives a shit.

                    • Bill

                      No. It’s my reply to your bullshit 🙂

                      Erm…you saying you want us to join the mile high club? I’ll pass on that one if it’s all the same to you. And if it’s not, then I’m still saying ‘no thanks’.

                      This bit about Whaleoil being ‘the best’ in your world just leaves me thinking that ‘fucking idiot’ doesn’t quite do you justice. And I apologise for underestimating your attributes Guerilla Surgeon. Sincerely.

                    • Guerilla Surgeon

                      Whatever you think about whale oil, he really is the best at banning people. I lasted 2 comments. And they were a lot more sensible than yours. The rest of your bullshit is just not worth replying to.

          • Ad 1.1.1.1.3

            Saved you the effort; here’s the actual protocols for searching.

            http://www.customs.govt.nz/news/resources/listsandguides/Documents/guidelines-for-personal-searches-that-involve-a-strip-search.pdf

            Goes into a reasonable amount of detail, including:
            “… in the presence of at least two officers of the same sex…” etc etc

            “… must be conducted with decency and sensitivity and in a manner that affords to the person being searched the degree of privacy and dignity that is consistent with achieving the purposes of the the search.” etc etc

            • Sabine 1.1.1.1.3.1

              Funny cause the last time i got searched (my luggage) was in NZ and it was a bloke.

              same in the US in 2003 (last time i traveled with electronic equipment)

              • Ad

                That is the standard you hold them to.

                • Sabine

                  not sure what mean by that.

                  The reason i don’t travel with electronics anymore is simple. I had the luck of trying to fly into NY during the three day black out in 2003. The whole of the east coast was without juice.

                  by the time i got to JFK, diverted via Atlanta, with a full day of waiting to leave in Nice, my laptop was outta juice. I had no cable on hand, as literally my baggage and that of several thousands of other travllers where somewhere nowhere to be found, and the guy checking my luggage was freaking out that it did not start up and was ready to have it blown up.

                  That is not my standard, mate, these are my experiences. In fact if i travel today, i usually travel via Asia as they seem less paranoid then the rest of the world.

                  As for the bloke in NZ, he was nice enough and luckily my undies were clean and tidy, but yeah, i would prefer a women to do that. But that is simply a level of comfort, i don’t expect to be accommodated. Fwiw.

                  • Ad

                    I wouldn’t recommend US border police or customs at any airport, especially compared to NZ.

                    Anyone can see what’s happening at the US border. Similar to travelling in the year after 9/11.

                    Not discounting your overseas experience. But it was an NZ article about NZ regulations so that’s what’s relevant.

                    Don’t have to feel lucky we have some of the gentlest border police in the world, but worth reflecting that you don’t have a right to enter most countries; you have only very basic rights at that point. It is a price of travel now, and that price is rising almost everywhere.

        • gsays 1.1.1.2

          Hi Bill, the difference between yr attitude here (par for the course), and yr position on kids activities with or without adults?

          It seemed the other day, you opined that we had moved as a society that had unnecessary adults in youth activities, and that should change, to shrugging yr shoulders to this blatant intrusive, driftnetting, big data approach to dealing with our fellow citizens.

          • Bill 1.1.1.2.1

            Not shrugging any shoulders. Try reading what I actually wrote.

            • gsays 1.1.1.2.1.1

              I just see a whole lot of issues here for example racial profiling, and was surprised by the acceptance implied in your comment.

              To be fair I was on a wee break at work, and reading it again I get a different vibe.

  2. Ad 2

    “Nationality doesn’t tell you “if a passenger has originated travel in, or passed through, a region of risk”, nationality tells you nationality”

    If you travel to or from Syria, Yemen, Somalia, or a list of other states, guaranteed you will be flagged at border, and you will have a file.

    We’ve been incredibly fortunate to stay as accepting and open as we are in this country already. Long may it stay that way.

  3. One Anonymous Bloke 3

    I have searched in vain for any “know your rights” type information that applies to customs. A little help please 🙂

    • Bill 3.1

      Would the case of David Miranda and UK Customs offer any pointers? From memory they detained him under some terrorist legislation because he was carrying electronic information….that was encrypted.

      Did/could they lay charges on him for not revealing passwords? No.

      I could imagine a keen customs officer spewing threaten laden bluster and bullshit in response to someone not handing over passwords to email and social media accounts. But I can’t think there’s a damned thing they can do about it.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1

        They can hold you for a reasonable time: Customs & Excise Act 1996. S.27(2)

        They can inspect baggage: S.29.

        I think that about covers it: surely electronic devices are baggage and the intent of the law is to allow “inspection”.

        I have no expertise in this field but at first glance the law looks pretty clear.

        Be nice to know what constitutes “reasonable” though.

        PS: Also see S39.

        • weka 3.1.1.1

          I guess it depends on whether one thinks one’s FB content is part of one’s device or not. Best bet is to back up the device, and then set it factory defaults before getting on the plane. Or even just delete the apps that have passwords and then reinstall them later.

        • Bill 3.1.1.2

          How’s about if you told customs something like.

          “I gave my passwords to ‘x’ and instructed them to change them all and inform me of the new passwords via reply text ‘next Tuesday’ after I’ve communicated with them that my privacy is safe”

          • Sabine 3.1.1.2.1

            you could also have a second phone with only the barest numbers i.e. family, work, destination phone nr. and leave the private phone at home.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1.2.2

            To Weka and Bill:

            Pretty sure if you don’t allow “inspection” the “baggage” would be seized.

            Having recently upgraded to a new tablet, I’d happily travel with a factory reset, allow inspection and re-install from the cloud on arrival.

            There are several online services that offer up to 5gB of encrypted storage for free, but if it’s that important you need to worry about crossing your air-gap, not the border.

            • weka 3.1.1.2.2.1

              “Pretty sure if you don’t allow “inspection” the “baggage” would be seized.”

              How would they seize my FB account?

              What’s an air-gap?

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                An air gap means you have a computer or network that has never been connected to the internet.

                As for your Facebook account, obviously they can’t seize it. I meant whatever device you were carrying that they wanted to inspect.

                • weka

                  “As for your Facebook account, obviously they can’t seize it. I meant whatever device you were carrying that they wanted to inspect.”

                  Ok, I think that’s a bit out of sync with the subthread. We don’t yet know what constitutes ‘baggage’.

                  “There are several online services that offer up to 5gB of encrypted storage for free, but if it’s that important you need to worry about crossing your air-gap, not the border.”

                  Not following you then. There is a difference between giving Customs access to my online life, and the NSA and their mates having access.

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    I don’t really see the difference.

                    Customs officers also have powers under the Terrorism Suppression Act – the same excuse the NSA, GCSB, SIS etc. use to peer through everyone’s windows.

                    To all intents and purposes it’s the same set of powers being used against you.

                    I think the question raised by the treatment of Mr. Soud et al is: “where’s the probable cause?”

                    Because it looks a whole lot like profiling to me.

                    • weka

                      If the dude checking the baggage in the airport has the access to the NSA etc databases, why do they need the passwords?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      I didn’t say they have access to the database, Weka, I said that both activities – the maintenance of the database, and the powers of search and seizure of Syrians etc, are part of the same body of law – or witless and counterproductive paranoid snooping if you prefer.

                    • weka

                      I was just pointing out one of the differences. You think it doesn’t matter, I do think it does. The law is interesting, but it’s pretty abstract unless we also look at what is happening.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      I am also talking about the ways the laws are applied, Weka. A customs inspection is a lot more personal than remote ubiquitous surveillance, but they are not separate activities: they are part of a spectrum.

                    • And this is why we shouldn’t be giving broad powers like this to customs and should instead by requiring them to hold people or devices while they bloody apply for warrants if anything actually merits a “search” that involves coercing people into disclosing their passwords.

                      It’s completely unreasonable to require ordinary people to disclose their passwords if they want their devices back. That should be reserved for cases when actual lives are known to be in danger, not for customs agents getting a bit racist.

          • dukeofurl 3.1.1.2.3

            Apparently they cant force you to supply passwords – thats coming in some law amendments, but if you dont they will keep the device for forensic analysis.
            It could be months before you get it back.

            I dont have a password, and keep the phone for ….you know txts and calls.

            The tablet is used for other stuff and a desktop for the rest like banking etc.

  4. Sabine 4

    Question: do we feel freer now? safer? more democratic?

    or are we just conditioned – like the frog in the warm water – to just simply obey commands and show papers when ordered?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1

      No more or less than before. Customs officers and border guards have been searching rice carts forever.

      • Sabine 4.1.1

        it reminds me of all the movies that i saw when i was younger and the scariest question was:

        Papiere bitte.

        • weka 4.1.1.1

          less free, less safe, less democratic. I can tell the difference between social media and a rice cart, and also how varying infringements on those are part of wider authoritarian controls on people and communities. I’m less concerned about the individual infringements (although they’re not great) than I am about the patterns of control emerging.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.1.1.1

            Not as a result of the Customs & Excise Act, which relates to baggage inspection.

            Palantir etc. work whether you are crossing the border or not, and we are certainly less safe as a result.

            • weka 4.1.1.1.1.1

              Are you saying that Customs have always required social media passwords?

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                No, just that they have always had excessive powers of search and seizure and this is simply an extension of that. In the days before social media were they prohibited from reading your diary?

                Edit: further, Facebook is hardly a good example of a private space.

                • weka

                  Lots of people use pseudonyms on social media, including FB. *looks pointedly*. And the password gives access to all your FB data, including posts you have marked private, what groups you belong to etc. There is a reason they want access to that via the password. If FB was completely open they wouldn’t need it. I’m surprised I have to point this out.

                  And why pay someone to hack The Standard when you can get access to the back end and all that personal detail from Customs?

                  “this is simply an extension of that.”

                  Not simply. It’s a misuse of the Act which I’m guessing was not designed with this in mind. It’s creep of powers and should be resisted.

                  Never mind, according to Duke above the law will soon be amended.

                  • weka

                    “Edit: further, Facebook is hardly a good example of a private space.”

                    Further, privacy isn’t a single state. It exists on a continuum, is particular to individuals as well as societal mores, and has to be understood in context. FB is actually a really good example, for the reasons I give above, and because research apparently shows that people want more privacy but feel that social media is too an important piece of their lives to give up over that issue.

                    It’s another example of power being vested in people who are really clueless about the wellbeing of human society, which is pretty ironic given the whole terrorism context.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      It’s another example of power being vested in people who are really clueless about the wellbeing of human society…

                      Customs Officers? With some of the shit they see – human trafficking leaps to mind – I suspect they have plenty of insights into the well-being of society.

                      On the other hand if you mean those who passed the Suppression of Terrorism Act and its various amendments…

                    • weka

                      That’s a sidestep. Unless you intend to imply that the only people responsible for the wellbeing of the world are those who pass legislation.

                      You also appear to be implying that Customs officials who see shitty stuff all respond in caring ways. That’s quite a claim.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      It’d be my claim, if I’d made it, but I didn’t, so it must be yours.

                    • weka

                      Generally when people make a statement that has potential implications and then choose not to clarify, I assume I am getting close to the truth. Or that the original argument wasn’t very successful.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      In future, when I refer to people as a group, would you be so kind as to assume, unless otherwise stated, that I think they act as individuals, prone to a wide range of opinion and behaviour, rather than some sort of borg.

                      It will save a lot of time.

                    • weka

                      Sure. Maybe you can tell me what the point of this comment was then?

                      Customs Officers? With some of the shit they see – human trafficking leaps to mind – I suspect they have plenty of insights into the well-being of society.

                      Which was in response to me saying,

                      It’s another example of power being vested in people who are really clueless about the wellbeing of human society, which is pretty ironic given the whole terrorism context.

                      I wouldn’t see Customs officers as a class as being any better or worse at wellbeing than other groups. They get given power, they’re socialised into the same neoliberal society as the rest of is, I expect some of them to behave well, some badly, and most in between. What I don’t expect is for Customs officials as a class to hold an oversight of how we are losing democracy, which of course doesn’t preclude any individual understanding.

  5. Skeptic 5

    I saw this news clip and the first thing that popped into my head was that someone had overstepped the mark and we haven’t heard the last of it. On reading the comments above and several other publications – two of them from lawyers – it wouldn’t surprise me if Airport Security and Customs are going to receive a significant amount of “guidance” from senior officials – both political and otherwise – in the next few days. Watch this space.

    • dukeofurl 5.1

      Far from it. Its all a top down guidance, ie You must do this . As the current law is not compulsory enough change is on the way.

      The Government’s new Customs and Excise Bill gives Customs the ability to demand people unlock electronic devices and reveal decryption keys at the border. The relevant section is 207 – Data in electronic devices that are subject to control of Customs.

      They are really agents of the Police
      ‘Futhermore, “relevant offending” is limited to the import/export of prohibited goods, an offence under the Customs Act, or unlawful importation or exportation of goods. However, with the history of Customs cooperating overly much with the Police (as admitted in the Switched-On Gardener case), the high level of access Customs give Police to their systems (as detailed in the MoU between Customs and Police), and the new information sharing provisions in this Bill, we are sceptical as to whether this will be honoured.

      Refusing to unlock the device or give up the password will be an offence with a fine of up to $5000, and possible loss of the device.
      https://nzccl.org.nz/content/customs-able-demand-unlockpasswords-border

      • Skeptic 5.1.1

        Thanks D – isn’t there a privacy issue here as well that falls under the Privacy Commissioner’s jurisdiction? It’s just that another post elsewhere brought my attention to it. I wonder if the current MOU might not comply with this as it has been suggested.

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