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'Snowden' backpacker gets his phone, iPad, laptop back from Customs

Chris Keall
Sat, 14 Dec 2013

Dec 14: Customs tells NBR that backpacker Sam Blackman says Customs has returned his smartphone, iPad, laptop and external hard drive, taken from him without explanation as he entered the country earlier this week.

The Aucklander, returning home for a month over Christmas, told his Twitter followers that Customs told him there was nothing of interest on the devices.

He had given Customs his passwords without seeking legal advice, he said, "because I have nothing to hide."

By Mr Blackman's account, Customs told him the seizure had nothing to do with his attending a meeting about exiled NSA contractor Edward Snowden in London.

Rather, it was because "my name on a broadband account at a student flat 6+ years ago and someone on that WiFi visited a dodgy site."

He did immediately return an NBR request for comment.

Customs external relations manager Helen Keyes earlier offered NBR the background explanation that, "Customs uses an intelligence and risk based approach at the border. Passengers considered high risk will receive attention, while legitimate travellers categorised as low-risk can enter and leave New Zealand with a lighter ‘touch’.  Under Section 151 of the Act Goods are able to be detained for examination if it is suspected they contain evidence of offences against the Act."

Asked if Customs had any issue with any of the content discovered on Mr Blackman's devices, Ms Keyes replied "No."

Customs on backpacker stripped of iPad, smartphone, laptop - no gear taken unless evidence law broken

Dec 12: Earlier today, the NZ Herald revealed law graduate Sam Blackman had two smartphones, an iPad, an external hard drive and laptop confiscated as he went through Customs at Auckland Airport. A Customs Officer also demanded passwords to each device.

Mr Blackman, a 27-year-old law graduate returning home for Christmas, told the paper he had no idea why the gadgets - and all of his attendant personal data - were confiscated.

He speculated it was because of his attendance - and tweeting - of a London meeting on mass surveillance sparked by the Snowden revelations, he said.

NBR offered Customs the chance to tell its side of the story.

Why was Mr Blackman's gear seized?

"Goods are able to be detained for examination if it is suspected they are, or they contain evidence of offences against the Customs and Excise Act 1996. Once the examination is completed goods are either released back to the passenger or formally seized," Customs external relations manager Helen Keyes told NBR via email.

"Items are not seized if they do not contain evidence of an offense against the Act."

So how exactly can a Customs Officer ascertain that a password-protected smartphone, laptop or iPad could contains evidence of an offence against the Act?

And if the Officer somehow could ascertain that, why was the suspect let go?

Ms Keyes says Customs does not comment on individual cases.

Beyond that, we'll just have to wait for an upcoming episode of Border Patrol.

Chris Keall
Sat, 14 Dec 2013
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'Snowden' backpacker gets his phone, iPad, laptop back from Customs