Australian Border Force searched 822 travellers’ phones in 2021

The federal government has introduced new grounds to cancel the visas of foreign nationals if they are found to present an “unreasonable risk of unwanted critical technology knowledge transfer”.
20 April 2022
Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

Australian Border Force officials searched 822 travellers’ mobile phones in 2021, despite admitting it has no power to force arrivals to give them the passcode to their devices. 

In January, Sydney software developer James told Guardian Australia that he and his partner were stopped on their return from Fiji by officials who asked for their phone passcodes and took their phones to another room to examine for half an hour, before returning the phones and allowing the pair to leave. 

Border force confirmed the practice was allowed under the Customs Act, but declined to expand on how often it was used, or what officers did with the devices once unlocked. 

In response to questions raised by the Greens digital rights spokesperson, Nick McKim, border force has confirmed there is no legal obligation for people to hand over their passcodes.

But if a person refuses to comply with the request and a border force officer considers there to be “a risk to the border” then the device can be seized for further examination. 

Border force said a phone would only be seized where officers suspect it has “special forfeited goods” such as illegal pornography and terrorism-related material.

Mr McKim said border force officials should be required to get a warrant before going through people’s phones, and that there needs to be more transparency about what data had been collected from the searches, who has access to it and how it is stored.

- CyberBeat



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