'Digital strip searches' at NZ airports force hundreds of Kiwis to surrender mobile and laptop passwords each year

Hundreds of New Zealanders are being forced to surrender their phone and laptop passcodes to customs officials each year in "digital strip searches".

New figures reveal up to two travellers each day are subjected to the security procedure at NZ airports. Source: 1 NEWS

New figures obtained by 1 NEWS have revealed Customs officials at New Zealand airports force up to two travellers every day to hand over their electronic devices and the passwords that access them.

New Zealand customs say they are looking for smugglers but admit they do sometimes take copies of travellers data and pass it on to Government agencies, including the police.

Intelligence Investigations Customs general manager Jamie Bamford said depending on how much data is on a phone or laptop the search can be "quick and cursory" or a "little more extensive".

"We can seize their device at the moment, and we have tools to break that encryption," Bramford said.

"We do adhere to the privacy act and are guided by that."

Since 2015, just over 1300 people have been subjected to digital strip searches at Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch airports.

The most commonly searched nationality was New Zealanders, with 296 searched, followed by Chinese, with 269 searched, and then Taiwanese with 91 searched.

A bill is also currently before parliament to fine people who refuse digital strip searches to be fined up to $5000.

However, Green Party MP Kennedy Graham said travellers should get legal advice first before handing over access to their digital devices.

"I would ask them if they could read me my rights - I would then ask if I could see a lawyer first - if it is a really important principle you have got to stand firm," Graham said.