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NZ Traveler's Electronics Taken At Airport; Interest in Snowden to Blame? 453

An anonymous reader writes "A New Zealand backpacker stripped of all electrical equipment at Auckland airport suggests attending a London talk on cyber-security following the Edward Snowden leaks may be to blame. Samuel Blackman was returning home for Christmas on 11 December from London Heathrow to Auckland via San Francisco when a customs officer at his final destination took the law graduate's two smartphones, iPad, external hard drive and laptop, demanding the passwords for all devices." For a quieter version, see also The New Zealand Herald.
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NZ Traveler's Electronics Taken At Airport; Interest in Snowden to Blame?

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  • Highway Robbery (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:53AM (#45669801)

    It is baffling how easily civilization reverts to medieval behaviors.

  • by sandbagger ( 654585 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:57AM (#45669839)

    We'll take your stuff, which you possibly use for your business or work, and won't tell you why, or for how long.

    There need to be laws and yes, intelligence agencies, but barring a crime, this ends up being bad PR.

    • The Whole Issue (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:18AM (#45669991)

      The whole issue is contained in the US Constitution where it says,

      "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." - Amendment 4.

      This needs to be a universal human rights declaration world wide and it needs to be a condition where no government is tolerated forcing people to give up their computers or their passwords. In the mean time anyone taking a computer on international travel is an idiot! We also need that every computer has a kill password where it is reset to factory default condition and the disk is wiped with a single password. You just give the government demanding your password the kill password and the game is over for them. Every OS should contain this in the future.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The whole issue is contained in the US Constitution where it says,

        Note to all retards who skimmed the summary and didn't read the article:

        This happened in New Zealand, not in the United States. The U.S. Constitution has absolutely fucking nothing to do with this because it didn't happen in the United States.

      • "The right of the people to be secure ..." has no meaning to courts in the United States. We passed that metric some time ago.

    • However, a Customs official has since told him they were searching everything for objectionable material under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

      Blackman said of course he didn't have anything like that. But if he had any porn at all, it's perfectly possible he did have "objectionable material". That's why I keep all my porn in a Truecrypt container. Even if I'm obliged to hand over my password to my device, they can't find anything objectionable (they can, I've got shit loads of p

      • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:11AM (#45670495) Homepage
        I would actually never store porn on my computer anyway. What's the point in that? There is so much porn on the Internet available, there is simply no reason to keep it on my computer.
      • Translation: 'We were told to get this person out, so we thought we'd search his computer. With any luck we'll find something on there violating one law or another. There are so may of them, after all.'

        • by icebike ( 68054 )

          Translation: 'We were told to get this person out, so we thought we'd search his computer. With any luck we'll find something on there violating one law or another. There are so may of them, after all.'

          You missed the part about his Girlfriend being Imogen Grispe, a well known journalist in NZ. See her site [] where she says:

          have reported on a wide range of topics including health, politics, science, technology, arts and travel. I specialised in ethics in my philosophy degree, and won a scholarship to study journalism at post-graduate level. ... I am a global citizen.

          Lots of scary buzzwords in there if you are a government intelligence officer (of any country).

          Transporting Snowden material via friends of reporters is something the spook community seems really worried about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:59AM (#45669847)

    taking the piss out of the Soviet Union, the Iron Curtain satellites nations and their citizens for the entire "Papers, please!" nonsense that occured whilst I was growing up in the 70s-80s. Is this crow I taste?

  • Figures (Score:4, Interesting)

    by redmid17 ( 1217076 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:05AM (#45669893)
    And my girlfriend wonders why I encrypt and password protect my phone and laptop. "Give us your password." "No" "We won't let you back in the US." "Um you can't do that to a US citizen." They might confiscate the electronics. Luckily I have the ability to work without the laptop I travel with, and I'm not a fan of this kind of political intimidation. I can't be bothered to do the same to my Kindle Fire though. Unless they want my recently watched shows of netflix, a couple of ebooks (paradise lost, GOT), or my browser history of ESPN and google news, they aren't going to find much.
    • Re:Figures (Score:5, Informative)

      by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:20AM (#45670009)

      Here in the UK, refusal to give a password to the police upon request is itsself a crime.

      • Re:Figures (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:29AM (#45670079)

        Not many countries are worth traveling to these days but the UK and the US are probably on my bottom 10 list for reasons like this.

      • At least in some countries, it isn't that you have to give the password, it's that you have to give the password if it's for an investigation. So the police can't just say "hand it over", they have to say "hand it over, because we are investigation this that and the other". Not that I want to defend that sort of shit of course.

        I just had a look at part III of RIPA, [] and can't understand it. But it does look like it's not necessary to have any actual good r

      • How do they prove that you know the entire password, or any part of it?
    • I can't be bothered to do the same to my Kindle Fire though. Unless they want my recently watched shows of netflix, a couple of ebooks (paradise lost, GOT), or my browser history of ESPN and google news, they aren't going to find much.

      At this point, I consider all Android or iOS (but especially Android) devices untrusted. The only way to trust an Android device would be to use one where the main processor is not subordinate to the modem processor and where you have loaded something like Replicant on it your

    • Re:Figures (Score:5, Funny)

      by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:41AM (#45670181) Homepage girlfriend...

      Hah! You NSA boys have a got to learn about blending in on teh internets.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The real solution is to travel with an unencrypted drive, with a stock install of something boring (Windows is particularly good for this), along with some innocuous garbage to dirty it up. When you get to your destination, you download something like PuTTY, SFTP/SSH back home, grab your stuff, even VPN software if you want. Heck, to avoid even having to grab anything "suspicious" on download, you can set up VSFTPD with an anonymous FTP locked down to one chroot'd directory to retrieve PuTTY from. Bonus poi
      • It would probably be a good idea to take installation media along with you, and make sure to hash it before you go, then keep the hash on your person. If my machine got grabbed for "inspection", I wouldn't trust the OS on it as far as I could throw it.

  • Ok, so... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BringsApples ( 3418089 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:10AM (#45669921)
    I guess the next step in this array of bullshit is for random folks to dress up like cops, secret service, airport authorities or any other scheme that fits the area, and detain people randomly and take their stuff. If enough people do this, then maybe people will remember why the fuck laws exist at all, and why the legal authorities have rules to follow as well. If we all allow for mere mankind to represent the universal authority (unquestionable authority; same authority that makes gravity a "law") then we're all doomed, as mankind is not fit for such authority.
  • by Mister Liberty ( 769145 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:17AM (#45669983)
    Don't play that game.
  • What are your rights then this happens? I guess you need to know all the laws on a country by country by nationality by nationality basis.
    How about for a UK citizen getting back into he UK.
    Think I'll stay at home.
    • Re:know your rights (Score:5, Informative)

      by sirkumi ( 1752188 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:45AM (#45670227)
      Sadly I don't think you have any rights - at least not in Australia [] - where I come from, and which has very similar customs laws to those of New Zealand.

      It would appear that they can take any and all of your electronic devices and storage equipment [] - including laptops, smartphones, usb keys - and they don't have to explain why or state what "reasonable suspicion" they have that you might have something illegal. On the whim of the customs officer, they can keep it for 14 days, or longer if they feel they have cause to.

      At most all you can do is lodge a complaint...
      • And there goes New Zealand off my list of optional places to live. Shit.
  • I try to take an almost ridiculously reasonable and neutral stance on most things. For example, I'd like to believe that, actually, this guy might be reasonably suspected of being a "cyber-terrorist" by the powers-that-be and the fact that he attended a cyber-security lecture is correlated to, but not direct causation for, his being stopped.

    I'd like to believe that...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The list of countries you shouldn't travel to if you don't want to be detained and would like to keep your stuff: US, England, New Zealand.

    • by N1AK ( 864906 )
      Seriously? Start a list of ones where you won't be and stop pretending like one or two places are somehow massively worse. Why is Snowden still in Russia? Because he couldn't get to South America without some country he would need to pass via screwing him over. Do you think Chinese rules give you more protection then US/UK/NZ rules?

      We're fucked and it's basically our own fault. People will give up almost anything and put up with almost anything, that doesn't cause too much visible inconvenience to their
  • My personal laptop is setup to wipe itself if you fail to give the correct credentials enough times. "No" you may not have my password, or better yet, "Password99" Try using that one a few times ;-)
    Of course there are things like Google Docs, so there isn't anything on the machine itself. I can stop at a store on the way home from the airport, pick up a cheap replacement and be back in business in the time it takes to logon to a hotspot.
    And I don't have anything to hide. This whole process was setup when I

    • by magic maverick ( 2615475 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:52AM (#45670297) Homepage Journal

      Google Docs. Lol. You may as well just print your shit off and hand it to the authorities directly. In fact, print it off, and fax it to the national police forces of all the major anglophone countries (including NZ). Because if they want it, they'll get it from Google anyway.

    • the article said the guy was a lawyer or pre-law or graduate, at least.

      if they mess with him, you think your 'lawyer friend' is really going to have any say in the matter?

      this kind of thing convinces me more than ever that if I need anything with data on it (beyond music players) I'll have it shipped to my destination and back.

  • by Kagato ( 116051 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:48AM (#45670251)

    The biggest surprise here is this happened in AKL instead of SFO. There is no transit freedom in the united states. If you're connecting you need to clear US customs and immigration and then re-check into your connecting flight. So if this was really a US demanded search one would think the phones and electronics would have been taken in SFO.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:48AM (#45670259) Homepage
    governments in general dont need to care about what particular policy or procedure to which one may object or find questionable. random crackdowns like this one on dissent are designed to impart a chilling effect that would discourage any challenge to a plutocratic united states governing policy. The take-home lesson of this hardship the government wishes you to embrace is that questioning the war on terror, its means or its methods, is absolutely forbidden.

    but why? in america heart disease, obesity, cancer, and car accidents kill more people by the day than terrorism has ever aspired to. but these afformentioned blights on american society can be explained away by freedom to consume, the capitalist healthcare and societal model, and the idea of personal responsibility; none of which pose a threat to the government. Terrorism is the forceful demand of very reasonable requests that have been iterated thousands of times over the past fifty years to a deaf audience of american plutocrats. people forget that Osama Bin Laden had rather reasonable requests of our foreign policy that were familiar, even embraced by a number of americans seeking to reduce foreign spending, but entirely ignored by our empire: Namely to leave Saudi Arabia, withdraw from Iraq, and withdraw support from Israel.

    The occupy protests are another fine example. it would have cost nothing to begin engaging protestors in constructive dialog and working to mitigate their grievances. We could have helped ensure the disenfranchised among them had a voice in the decision making process of their elected government and emerged championing the american way. Instead they were systematically targeted and demonized by media, their message marginalized and obfuscated. the protestors were arrested, beaten and some killed. free speech areas were closed and voraceously defended from protestors. A new I-Phone came out and as intended, america changed the channel.

    many will see that in america, "protests arent allowed to go on forever" and this is true for a number of reasons. grass is trampled, sidewalks are congested and eventually the government grows tired. but like every government we demonize around the world, our leaders laud the idea that protests are not allowed to go on forever. That if they can control the media outcome of the event, they stymy the calcification of resolve and interest in the protest and never have to do anything more than continue with business as usual. Protests in america are as genuine and lawful as protests in china in many respects, because instead of addressing fundamental failures of north american capitalism ad foreign policy we patch over the cracks with arrest warrants and detention camps. Its the reason protests at presidential inaugurations do not take place anywhere near the inauguration, and why Occupy new york does so nowhere near Wall Street.
  • confiscation? wtf? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by l3v1 ( 787564 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:52AM (#45670299)
    OK, first I have to say I travel a lot and I know they can check your devices at a lot of airports, and I hate that as much as everyone. However, my question is why don't they just make a copy/backup/etc of all the devices you have and give them all back? Why do they have to take everything away? It's not that I'd have something sensitive or illegal on my devices: I never take sensitive information with me on travels, I always access them remotely on our servers, all the software I use is legit or free, and I buy all my music and videos. However, taking the devices away can cause a lot of problems, the most important being making you unreachable (and making you unable to reach people). Yes, you can buy a new tablet or a new laptop, and you can buy a new phone, but good luck trying to convince your phone company to forward your calls to a new number if you don't actually have the device and you're not even in your home country... and propagating your new number to all your important contacts could be a real PITA. Yes, some can use Google Voice, but others would be simply fscked. All in all, I don't see how one could come out OK from such an encounter.
    • making copies can take time. drives are pretty large today and it can take a while to zip up your media. it also requires some skill and these monkeys simply don't have it; that's the job of some other back-room set of monkeys.

      the main goal is to scare and punish. and let everyone know that they can do this to anyone at any time and without any reason.

      tl;dr; its all for continuing the chilling effect, to keep people in fear OF the government.

    • In this case, the "reason" was because they suspected the fella of importing "objectionable" material. So making a copy and then giving the device back wouldn't serve the purpose of taking the device. That is, stopping "objectionable" material from entering the country.


  • Would a chromebook make a good travel laptop for this sort of situation? Let's say you have two Google accounts, one with a bland public persona and one with any sensitive information you care to work with. Delete your sensitive account from the machine before you transit through customs and add it back when you get to a safe(ish) network. Keep all your data in the cloud.

    I wonder what Chrome OS does with local files of deleted users?

    • by SIGBUS ( 8236 )

      Well, then you're trusting Google not to hand your data over to any random government official in whatever countries you travel to or through. Not to mention, is your connection between the Chromebook and Google encrypted? Is it worthwhile encryption or something as easy to crack as WEP?

      Even though it's now over 14 years ago, I deliberately chose not to travel with a laptop to the UK. IMO, the best bet if you need a computer is to get a cheap netbook or refurbished laptop, and install your OS of choice onto

  • by pigsycyberbully ( 3450203 ) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:35AM (#45670757) Homepage
    In 2008 I had a computer confiscated they asked me for the password I said the stress of the confiscation made me forget the password. They said to me "do I take them for fools." I said yes but what has that got to do with the password? The laptop was a Dell Computer and it was broken the keyboard did not work and it also did not have a hard drive I had taken it out to use it with another laptop. They never returned the laptop not that I wanted it back anyway. They really are stupid people they just tick boxes and do as they are told they are a special kind of brainless human being. The solicitor told me to make a claim for the laptop "the value of" for a brand-new working computer although I never did. They were looking for clone mobile phone numbers. I have a stubborn rebellious nature that is antiauthority and unfortunately I cannot control my stubborn rebelliousness.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!