Individuals and Travellers

Baggage Examination And Questioning

Guide to Travellers - legislative powers  

Border Force officers have legislative powers to conduct baggage examinations and to question travellers to identify breaches of certain customs, quarantine and other Commonwealth legislation, including the importation and exportation of prohibited or restricted goods. 


Border Force officers exercise questioning powers under the Customs Act 1901 (Customs Act)  and a range of other Commonwealth legislation.  Officers have powers to question travellers about whether they (or a person accompanying them) have any dutiable, excisable or prohibited goods.  They also exercise powers to question travellers in relation to other matters such as their immigration clearance, the nature or origin of wildlife specimens and whether they have any currency or bearer negotiable instruments (for example, cheques or money orders).

Baggage Examination

Under the Customs Act, Border Force officers also exercise the power to examine goods subject to Customs control.  This may involve:

  • opening packages;
  • using a device such as an x ray or ion scanner on the goods;
  • testing or analysing the goods;
  • using a detector dog to examine the goods; or
  • if the goods are a document, reading the documents directly or with the use of an electronic device. 

Officers may arrange for another officer or person with relevant experience to assist in the examination of goods and a traveller’s goods may be retained for examination.

Electronic devices held for forensic examination under section 186 of the Customs Act  will be retained for no longer than 14 days, provided there is no content on any device retained which renders the device subject to seizure under Customs-related laws.  If any device is subject to seizure, the examination of any associated retained devices may take longer than 14 days.  Information about travellers’ definite itineraries, the impact on legitimate livelihoods or the need to contact family members will be taken into account when prioritising the examination.  Cooperation from travellers regarding access to devices will assist in expediting the examination but without that cooperation the examination may take longer than 14 days.      

Copying documents

After examining an item, Border Force officers may copy a document where they are satisfied that the document may contain information relevant to prohibited goods, an offence against the Customs Act or a prescribed Act, or to certain security matters.  A ‘document’ includes information stored on mobile phones, SIM cards, laptops, personal electronic recording apparatus and computers.
There is no requirement for the traveller carrying the documents to be present when a document is copied.

Complaints and Compliments

Should you wish to lodge a complaint or compliment about the exercise of these legislative powers, please contact us here.