The Australian Border Force (ABF) has the power to examine ANY goods at the Border- including your electronic documents and photos on your mobile phone. 

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease and we all begin to flock overseas, it is important you are aware that you will likely be stopped by ABF officials for a search of your belongings, including possibly your phone.  

What are your rights? 

If ABF officials want to search your phone, you can refuse. However, if you refuse to comply with a request for an examination of an electronic device, you might be “referred for further enforcement action”. ABF has the power to detain you and search your electronic devices.  

What can they search and seize? 

ABF officials have the power to question all travellers and examine any goods in the interest of Australia’s immigration policy, customs, biosecurity, health, law enforcement or national security.  

In fact, to date, information seized from passenger’s phones, has led to the success of many law enforcement operations targeting illegal activities.  

What can they do with my phone data? 

ABF officials also have the power to copy data from your phone if they are satisfied it contains information about an alleged offence, prohibited goods or illegal activity.  

In the days of COVID – they can also copy data from your phone if they suspect you have been flouting COVID-19 rules and directions.  

There is no requirement for a person – yourself for your lawyer included – to be present when an ABF official copies a document from your electronic device.  

Can I ask them to delete the date they have copied? 

After the search has been completed, you are able to make an application for your date to be deleted.  

If it is the case where nothing that breaches Custom control or the Crimes Act is found, then the application is likely to be granted.  

However, if it’s the case that material is found that amounts to a breach of Custom control or an offence against the Crimes Act, then the application is likely to be denied on the basis it could form part of evidence against you in Court.  

Further information regarding the power of the ABF can be found at: 

Further information regarding what you can bring back to Australia can be found at: 

If you have any questions about this article or any other topic of law, please call our team of experts on 1300 066 669.