Previously customs had the power to stop people at the border and demand to see electronic devices, but the law at that time did not stipulate that users had to handover passwords, meaning that if your phone or computer was not password protected, they could search it. However the new law means that you would have to comply and unlock your device or risk facing a $5,000 fine, although thankfully these “digital strip searches” will need to be done based on the officials having a reasonable enough suspicion of wrongdoing.
This means that unless you give customs officials a reason to think you’re up to no good, you won’t be randomly chosen to have your devices combed over. According to Customs spokesperson Terry Brown, “It is a file-by-file [search] on your phone. We’re not going into ‘the cloud’. We’ll examine your phone while it’s on flight mode.”
Unsurprisingly not everyone is loving this new law, with some calling it an “unjustified invasion of privacy”. Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Thomas Beagle argues that it would be hard to challenge that the cause of suspicion is. He adds, “Nowadays we’ve got everything on our phones; we’ve got all our personal life, all our doctors’ records, our emails, absolutely everything on it, and customs can take that and keep it.”