FILE - A man uses a smartphone in Tokyo, Japan, June 22, 2017. Visitors to New Zealand can now expect to be fined more than $3,000 for refusing to provide passwords to unlock electronic devices and allow customs officials to examine them under a new
FILE - A man uses a smartphone in Tokyo, Japan, June 22, 2017. Visitors to New Zealand can now expect to be fined more than $3,000 for refusing to provide passwords to unlock electronic devices and allow customs officials to examine them under a new

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - Travelers entering New Zealand who refuse to disclose passwords for their digital devices during forced searches could face prosecution and heavy fines.  Border authorities say the move could be a world first.

Under the new 2018 Customs and Excise Act officials in New Zealand can force travelers to unlock any electronic device so it can be searched.  Anyone who refuses can face prosecution and a fine of more than $3,000.

The legislation, which is thought to be the first of its kind anywhere, also gives agents the authority to copy any data on devices they search.  

The New Zealand government said in a statement that the “traveling public is unlikely to notice much difference at the border.”

The Customs Minister Kris Faafoi says the measure will boost national security.

“A lot of the organized crime groups are becoming a lot more sophisticated and the ways that they are trying to get things across the border and if we do think that they are up to that kind of business, then getting intelligence from smartphones and computers can be useful  for prosecution,”  Faafoi said.

But New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties chairperson Thomas Beagle says the new law is a "grave invasion of personal privacy.”

“Nowadays we have got everything on our phones.  We have got all of our personal life, we have got all our doctors’ records, our emails - absolutely everything on it, and Customs can take that and keep it,” Beagle said.

Customs officers will be able to search any device that gives them a “reasonable cause to suspect” wrongdoing.

In New Zealand, as in other countries, including Australia, customs agents already had the legal power to search and seize digital devices if there was a suspicion they contained evidence of criminal activity.  

But the law did not previously force travelers to open their devices for inspection by entering a password.