New Zealand now demands that travelers hand over their phone passwords when they enter the country. Privacy right groups have expressed concern that New Zealand has overstepped its power and hinders the rights of tourists who travel there. However, these groups fail to realize that the country is taking a step in the right direction to prevent dangerous individuals from entering the country.  

On March 29, 2018, the New Zealand government implemented a policy that requires tourists to provide their mobile phone password when requested by customs officers. The information officers can demand includes codes, passwords, encryption keys, or anything else that provides access to an electronic advice. Officers must have a “reasonable cause” to demand this information, and the device must be returned to the owner unless evidence of an offence is found. Travelers may refuse to hand over their password when they have a “reasonable excuse,” such as a search without “reasonable cause,” or they are subject to paying a fine of 5,000 New Zealand dollars (3,200 U.S dollars). Although several countries have laws that allow customs officers to search travelers’ devices, New Zealand is the first country to fine travelers who refuse to give their passwords to customs authorities.

Privacy rights groups have opposed the new policy and claim that it is an “invasion of personal privacy.” One such organization, the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties (CCL), argued that most phones “contain a large amount of highly sensitive personal information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos,” adding that it also violates the privacy “of people [the phone owners] have communicated with.” This argument, however, ignores the need for a customs officer to have a “reasonable cause” to access information from an individual’s cell phone. If the officer is discovered to have searched a person’s device without “reasonable cause,” they are breaking the law. This stipulation ensures that the policy treats officers and tourists fairly and provides consequences for both parties if the law is broken.

Privacy rights groups are indeed correct in their belief that people’s cell phones hold most of their private information. However, the CCL is incorrect in using this fact to explain why the policy is invading personal privacy. Gabriel Weimann of the University of California stated, “Today, about 90 percent of organized terrorism on the internet is being carried out through social media. By using these tools, the organizations are able to be active in recruiting new friends without geographical limitations.” The security firm Trend Micro analyzed thousands of alleged terrorist accounts to find how terrorists communicate online. In their findings, Gmail was the most used email application among the terrorists that were analyzed at 34 percent.  Other email applications used included the encrypted Mail2Tor, Sigiant, and Yahoo. For text messaging, the application most frequently used was Telegram, an encrypted messaging service that hides a person’s identity. Other popular apps consisted of Signal, Wickr, and Whatsapp.

Dangerous individuals who conspire terrorist attacks clearly communicate by emails and text because these platforms allow individuals to communicate quickly despite physical distance. If the customs officers of a country are able to access conspiring emails and texts from a potential terrorist, then they can arrest the owner of the devices and stop an evitable terrorist attack on their country.

The purpose of this law is to protect New Zealand’s citizens from dangerous travelers. This new policy could be the difference between a terrorist attack occurring and a terrorist being apprehended before even leaving the airport. Business Insider ranks New Zealand as the second safest country in the world. New Zealand is among the safest because they are willing to pass these controversial, yet ultimately beneficial, laws.