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.