Thursday, February 13, 2014

Customs on digital border interceptions

The increased public scrutiny of Customs' search and seizure of digital devices has forced them to release some statistics - and some spin:

Last year, Customs detained 295 computers and 548 electronic devices for detailed examination of equipment that were suspected to contain objectionable material or other evidence of border offending.

In 2013, targeted searches of passengers’ luggage at airports led to a number of arrests, including a German tourist who was jailed for importing objectionable publications and images after Customs found over 35,000 child sexual abuse images on his laptop.

Customs would have you believe that this is all about child pornography. But stats released last year showed that half of all seizures were in fact for "materials breaching intellectual property rights". Those stats also showed that between september 2012 and August 2013, only 234 searches resulted in finding prohibited material. Assuming the number of searches has not jumped dramatically in the last four months, this suggests that only around a quarter of these grossly intrusive searches are successful.

Plus of course there's their unlawful searches of bystander's devices to allow Police to circumvent the Search and Surveillance Act, and their searches for the FBI for "brownie points".

But that's OK, because they assure us that "“Those who don’t break the law have nothing to worry about". Bullshit. The unreasonable seizure of Sam Blackman's devices shows that the innocent have a lot to worry about - and that Customs may be misusing its powers to conduct political searches.

While Customs' openness is welcome here, there needs to be a lot more of it, as well as much tighter constraints on their powers. We have a right against unreasonable search and seizure. Customs' limitless powers seem to be the very definition of "unreasonable".