Samuel Blackman arrived from London on Thursday morning
only to have all of his personal electronic items seized by
New Zealand Customs. Photo / Greg Bowker
A backpacker coming home from Christmas had every bit of
electronic equipment stripped from him at the airport but has
no idea why.
His only theory - his attendance at a talk in London about
Edward Snowden's leaked documents.
A Customs officer at Auckland International Airport took law
graduate Sam Blackman's two smartphones, iPad, an external
hard drive and laptop _ and demanded his passwords.
"I don't have a bloody clue, "said Mr Blackman, 27, who was
breaking up travelling with his journalist fiance Imogen
Crispe for a month back in New Zealand for Christmas.
The only possibility of why it occurred was his attendance -
and tweeting - of a London meeting on mass surveillance
sparked by the Snowden revelations, he said.
Mr Blackman arrived in Auckland at 5.30am on a flight from
Heathrow, travelling through San Francisco.
He declared loose-leaf tea he was carrying as he came through
Customs and believed that was responsible for the extensive
bag search to which he was subjected.
"He said 'we're not worried about the tea','' Mr Blackman
said of the Customs' official.
The official then returned to going through the bag, pulling
out electronic equipment as he did so.
"We're going to have to detain this,'' Mr Blackman said he
was told. "We're going to have to send this to a forensic
Mr Blackman said when he pulled a phone out of his pocket,
the official also took that, refusing permission for him to
call his parents who were waiting in the arrival lounge.
He said he was also told to provide passwords for the
"That is a real invasion of privacy.''
One of the phones had no password but required a design to be
traced on the screen. The official was unconcerned and said
the forensic team would defeat security to access the device,
Mr Blackman claimed.
He said he asked why the items were being confiscated and the
official refused to say - or to say how long the items would
In November, Mr Blackman and Ms Crispe attended a meeting at
the Royal Institute of British Architects attended by
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, MPs from across Europe, and
spokespeople from groups opposing spying.
A Customs' spokeswoman refused to discuss Mr Blackman's case.
She said passengers considered "high risk" received attention
at the airport. She also said Customs officials were required
to have "reasonable cause" to believe an offence had been
"Information or data may be used as evidence of an offence or
may be a prohibited item such as objectionable images.''
TechLiberty director Thomas Beagle said the seizure of phones
and laptops was a "major interference in your life"in the
He said Customs law had a pre-digital focus which, when
applied to the technical age, did not take into account the
amount of personal information or the frequency of use.
"What does this mean for other people? You really have to
consider what you take over the border.''
Mr Beagle said his understanding of the law was that
travellers did not have to surrender their passwords.
However, he said it meant it was likely the device of
interest would then not be allowed into the country.
- by David Fisher