Draconian Digital Search Laws Threaten Bitcoiners Passing Through Customs
Draconian legislation in a series of supposedly liberal democracies is encroaching on the rights of travelers. New Zealand is the latest nation to pass laws granting customs agents unprecedented investigatory powers including the right to force travelers to disclose their passwords or face a $5,000 fine. The news has understandably been greeted with alarm by bitcoiners who have particular reason to prize their privacy.
New Zealand Presages the Shape of Border Surveillance to Come
Travelers passing through customs are particularly vulnerable to state intrusion into their personal lives. Airports occupy a sort of netherworld in which the normal laws protecting citizens are relaxed under the guise of protecting national security. While preventing terrorists and other dangerous criminals from gaining entry is a justifiable reason for profiling and potentially searching new arrivals, it’s also used as a dragnet exercise. From cypherpunks to activists, anyone deemed vaguely anti-government – despite presenting no physical threat to the state – are prone to being hauled up for interrogation. Laptop inspected. Cell phone scrutinized. And now, password demanded.
New Zealand’s national security measures are not usually mentioned in the same breath as those of more oppressive regimes such as the US. Its latest customs law has placed the Antipodean territory firmly in the limelight, however, and had bitcoiners vowing never to return. Travelers who refuse to produce the password to their electronic devices upon request could be handed a $5,000 fine. The Customs and Excise Act 2018 effectively authorizes “digital strip searches”. While some caveats have been introduced – the search will supposedly be limited to data stored on the device and not to connected cloud accounts – it is nevertheless a cause for concern.
Concerned Cryptocurrency Holders Vow to Take Preventative Measures
The number of travelers who are forced to reveal their passwords by NZ officials is relatively low; 540 devices were searched in 2017. There are fears however that the new Customs and Excise Act will lead to an increase in searches and set a dangerous precedent that could be emulated by the other Five Eyes nations, completed by Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. The quintet are parties to a multilateral signals intelligence agreement. In effect, this means that the US could use New Zealand as a conduit for sweeping up intelligence on a target passing through customs. Thus, despite its diminutive size, the ramifications of New Zealand’s new law are potentially huge.
“As border controls become more draconian in conducting digital strip searches it will become more important to protect your data by leaving it “at home” and downloading it later via a tool such as @syncthing,” urged Jameson Lopp. Andreas Antonopoulos was even blunter, tweeting: “It was nice visiting New Zealand twice. Pity I won’t be going back… In today’s society this kind of orwellian bullshit is unacceptable.”
News.Bitcoin.com has previously published guides on protecting your privacy and concealing your affinity for cryptocurrency when traveling abroad to avoid scrutiny. While owning cryptocurrency is not illegal, it may be enough to invite an enhanced search. Should customs agents subsequently uncover a digital wallet holding a large amount of crypto, law-abiding travelers could find themselves facing some tough questions under the assumption of “Guilty until proven innocent”.