Nicky Wagner needs to explain herself

Nicky Wagner as Customs Minister issued a press release on Friday regarding Customs and Excise Act amendments.

Buried in the middle of her release is mention of the contentious issue regarding accessing private computing devices at the border.

“The Government has agreed in principle that Customs needs to meet a statutory threshold before examining electronic devices.  We have asked Customs to do further work on what this would look like in practice and report back prior to introduction of the Bill.  The Government has also agreed in principle that, once the threshold is met, a person should have to assist Customs with the examination if asked.”

Which seems rather too broad for my liking, especially since Customs documents show that cabinet wanted a very, very broad definition and search and seizure regime in place.

customs 1 customs 2

I should have thought an active and current warrant should be the threshold not the trumped up suspicions of a customs offical who has profiled you and decided today is the day they have suspicions of people with pony-tails, or sleeve tattoos or whatever else they want to use to suddenly demand access to your devices.

It seems from the Minister’s press release that she is captured by her officials who have requested wide ranging powers that not even Police have. More concerning is that the Minister seems to have gone along with it and gotten cabinet approval along the way.

Her amorphous term “statutory threshold” should also be concerning considering they are talking about amendments to the Customs and Excise Act and therefore any provision handing these powers to Customs would meet “statutory threshold”.

As far as I am concerned the only statutory threshold should be a warrant, issued by a court. It is not acceptable for the threshold to be some sort of panty sniffing gut feel of a customs officer.

The Police have to get a warrant, SIS has to get a warrant, GCSB has to get a warrant. Customs should be the same.

I know other ministers have resisted this in the past, it’s a shame Nicky Wagner seems captured by her officials. It is this sort of dopey thinking that causes bad headlines and gifts free hits to the opposition.


– Customs


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  • The Fat Man

    So let me get this right Customs have been told to write there own rules on what they think is reasonable cause.

    There interpretation will be that we want to have a look and that is reason enough. They will certainly not want any legal safeguards like a Court warrant or anything.

    Does that include searching the “cloud” based outside of New Zealand.

    Given that it is good practice to have a backup of important information, most people would probably opt to just destroy the drive rather than have sensitive commercial information going out of their control.

    How about a heavily encrypted drive with nothing on it.

    They should probably be concentrating on there failure to stop Illegal drugs getting into the Country. Perhaps some accountability.

    At a lose at what could possibly be of interest to the New Zealand Government on a hard drive, that is not already readily available on the net.

    Sounds a bit like Big Brother at work again.

    • Mark

      It’s Customs,they have always both considered themselves a law unto themselves & behaved continuously as such,they are doing so now & will do so in the future.

      icloud,a reset iphone & wifi at your destination to load it all back in again,stuff them. For extra points I may load my password as Customssux.

  • cows4me

    Just more big brother crap, it’s a creeping disease. Customs will be going “oh look our custom bros over the seas are prying into everything they can get their noses into, why can’t we”. I say screw them, enough is enough. Seems to me the threat of terrorism has become God’s gift to the surveillance state. It’s not the terrorists that are after our freedoms.

  • Jimmie

    A better option may be as follows:

    1 Reasonable cause to suspect that an offence has been committed and
    2 Reasonable cause to believe that evidential material is on the device
    Customs to hold the device for 48 hours in order to obtain a Search Warrant.

    If the Warrant is refused Customs must return the device at their own cost.

    If the Warrant is granted then the person must supply the Pin or face a suitable charge of Obstruction

    • Terry

      Having just learned that explosive or incendiary materials can be secreted within what looks like an ordinary laptop, I have no problem with having to boot my laptop at the Customs checkpoint. Usually it can be done easily while waiting in the queue. That would make it easier/quicker to implement Jimmie’s points 1 and 2 where reasonable cause exists, as well as assuring that it ain’t a bomb.

      • Dan

        Is this designed for explosives or for the media content? Because just about every time I go through Australian airports I get my laptop scanned with a magic wand or two that detects explosive substances and one for drugs. It is quick and effortless (although can be a little embarassing). It doesn’t add much to the processing time.

        This is hardly surprising for me because I am gadget mad and by the time I load a carry on bag with laptop, phone, tablet chargers for both, ear phones, USB sticks, presentation remote (battery removed) and goodness knows whatever else beeps and flashes. The XRay of my bag looks like a bowl of spaghetti wires.

        Every second person has a laptop or other gadget so like you, if gadgets must be turned on then not an issue. Although turning on may initiate a catastrophic sequence in itself, so what then?

  • Backdoor

    I would rather allow Customs to view the contents of my electronic devices and then be on my way. The alternative suggested would require my electronic device to be detained until a warrant could be obtained. That could be several hours. Alternatively, the electronic device could be refused entry into NZ. No problem there.

  • JC

    Along with the above Jew bashing by McCully this is the sort of thing an effective Opposition would be coming down hard on. Failure to do so makes me think this is an antisemitic police state.