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Customs will be able to demand passwords

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 19/05/2016

It seems likely customs officers will be given authority to demand laptop and cellphone passwords, but not without a good reason.

Customs wants greater power to force travellers to hand over their passwords, and said so in a discussion document released in March last year.

Under current law, owners of electronic devices aren't legally obliged to provide passwords.

Customs said in the discussion document it was working under laws passed in 1996 which pre-dated extensive use of laptops and cellphones, and it wanted them changed.

Customs Minister Nicky Wagner said on Thursday the government had agreed in principle that officers would have to meet a statutory threshold before examining electronic devices.

That means they would have to have grounds for suspecting criminal activity, or other wrongdoing.

Ms Wagner says the government has also agreed, in principle, that once the threshold was met a person would have to comply.

"We have asked Customs to do further work on what this would look like in practice," she said.

Ms Wagner announced several changes to border management which will streamline processes involving excise duties.

She's going to bring a bill to parliament later this year, and wants her department to report on the password issue before then.

When the discussion document was released, opposition parties said the password proposals were unacceptable.

The Greens said Customs could already demand passwords but had to get a warrant, and allowing officers to simply ask for them was an invasion of privacy.

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