back to article Gadgets safe from global airport anti-piracy plan

Alarming headlines claiming that our laptop hard drives and iPod libraries could soon be scanned at airports for illegal copies of content are unfounded. Several recent reports, including one by the Daily Telegraph, claim that the governments of the G8 nations are considering an anti-piracy plan that would see customs …


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  1. Ricky Cann

    If is was true it would be unenforceable

    My girlfriend spent three weeks encoding 60gb of music from her CD collection. It's a good job the story is bunkem as how would anyone at an airport be able to distinguish this legitimate digital library from someone who had illegally downloaded 60gb of digital music? Without coming into our home to see the hard copies of the CD's then I know of no other way anyone could ascertain if the music files were legal or not.

  2. Rachel

    nothing new under the sun

    Some years ago, when my sister was involved in writing multimedia content and used to travel with CDRs, the customs at Dover would routinely confiscate her CDs on the grounds that they *must* be illegal material, since they had never seen so many cds legitimately. On one occasion, when carrying some discs with programming elements that could not be immediately opened by the fools that were employed there, with a conference to attend, she was nearly arrested for so-called piracy (and presumably her haste to try and catch the ferry she was booked on).

    We can all learn a lesson from another friend, who had tax fraud charges against him eventually dropped, since all the files were on a (current) archimedes, a system which had the very 'best' men in the country stumped as to how to even boot the machine. Needless to say, he did not cooperate with their demands - 'How do I turn it on?' they asked and he laughed.

    Using nonstandard OSs poses a serious problem for the plod.

  3. andy

    Dont they do that already?

    "It is clear that you are not going be pulled aside by rubber-gloved customs staff so they can probe the portions of your laptop where the sun don't shine."

    I believe the TSA guys (american customs officials) have started to do this already. They are confiscating laptops and other gadgtes for indefinite periods and doing who-know-what with them.

    They seem to be beyond the law already...

  4. Anonymous Coward

    So your going to stand there and argue...

    ...while the person with the rubber glove is conducting a search.

    The jumped up little Hitlers employed at airports, railway stations and other public humiliation^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H transport hubs will certainly use this look at your private files.

  5. Adam Foxton
    Black Helicopters


    ... arse about with your partition table and remove the one with the "contraband" data on it. An extra DVD- or even Blu-ray disc- of data is hardly going to be queried over, say, a few hundred GB of legit data. Or just use some random filesystem that no-one really supports.

    Or hide the data somewhere on your person. A Micro-SD card full of illegal data could be hidden in anything- even a coat button would be able to hold one. With a button-up full length jacket using, say, 8 buttons and up to 8GB on a micro-SD card, that's 64GB that'll make it through the scanners undetected. Especially with metal buttons. Add in cufflinks, belt buckles (you could probably fit 12- or 96GB- into a decent sized buckle). You could even hide it in a "strengthening strip" around the lace eyelets on shoes/boots (or steel toecaps)- strip of steel to hide anything from x-rays, micro-SD cards stuck underneath them. Probably another 12 micro-SD cards each. So that's 352GB from two shoes, a belt buckle and a coat. For under £900.

    Wow, I can see the terrorists and serious movie piraters bricking themselves over this if it gets introduced.

    They'll catch the idiots who bring it in by the container load, and they'll catch the kids with the new Ice Age film on PSP. But that's it.

  6. Andy

    better link

    Sorry about the link earlier!

  7. Andy

    @"If it was true it would be unenforcable"

    Bizarrely, the RIAA think it's illegal to copy your own CDs to MP3:

    How long before we get the same brand of guff in the UK?

    Black Helicopters

    Missing the point...

    It’s not a case of looking at everyone’s devices (an impossible process at an airport for example), and as correctly stated, how would they know what is legal vs illegal…?

    The point with an act like this (if passed), it that it’s a green light for authorities to take anyone’s device for whatever period as long as they have ‘good reason’ – note: ‘good reason’ is as well defined as ‘reasonable suspicion’ in society today!

    To quote “… “suspend import, export and trans-shipment” of suspected IPR-infringing goods. In most instances, officials must have good reason to suspect the presence of counterfeit or pirated content”.

    Ok so ‘IPR-infringing goods’: another loose term however take this as an example: “Mr X, can you tell us why you are still using this application ‘unregistered’ as shareware while it clearly states that you have to register after 20 days?”.

    Not a big deal right? Wrong, this is just a very simple example of a misuse of power and them clearing themselves of interrupting your family’s holiday departure whilst slapping you with a fine, caution, or whatever else depending how many other IPR infringements you might have...

    Point is if you look hard enough you’ll find something; this is just a tool to let them do exactly that.

    Black helicopter because they are coming to get you.

  9. Mark
    Black Helicopters


    Uh, it doesn't matter what the politicians SAY the law is for, it's what the words say and how the lawyers with the biggest fees interpret them to mean.

    Have a look at the terrorism act (used against taking pictures of a labour conference from outside and to remove an old geezer who said "rubbish"). Or the CCTV making our streets safer from yobs^Wpooping dogs.

    Hey, sometimes there ARE black helicopters.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    How long before we get the same brand of guff in the UK?


    " Bizarrely, the RIAA think it's illegal to copy your own CDs to MP3: [link]

    How long before we get the same brand of guff in the UK? "

    Ah, but it *IS* illegal in the UK. In the US, they argue "fair use" for location shifting, but UK statutes carry no fair use clauses. ("Fair dealing" for academics, but nothing for the general public.)

    @Ricky Cann

    "how would anyone at an airport be able to distinguish this legitimate digital library from someone who had illegally downloaded 60gb of digital music?"

    If you're from the UK, or travelling to the UK, see above.

    But then again there's also the question of legitimate MP3 download shops...

  11. Daniel B.

    So its bollocks, then

    "ACTA will seek to crack down on large-scale illegal disc production - impounding 50,000 dodgy copies of Hancock found in a shipping container, for instance"

    I wonder who would be so stupid to *ship* 50k counterfeit DVD's, as its easier, cheaper and less-risky to just burn 'em at the "sales point".

  12. Michael Willems

    They do it already.

    They do that already: Canada and US customs routinely check travellers' laptops' parts where the sun don't shine. So the article is wrong to be so trusting.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    @ Cann

    Do you really think it's custom's problem to separate legal or not legal contents?

    No, it's _your_ problem: Prove that every single piece is bought, else you are a criminal and your computer is confiscated. You don't really have a clue how customs work: You are the smuggler and they only have to get you. A hard drive full of MP3s makes you automatically guilty of everything.

    Another snippet:

    "Its focus is "IPR infringements for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain"."

    And a hard drive full of music loaded from Napster isn't for "private financial gain"?

    Penny saved is a penny earned and if this becomes the law, laptops are first in the list of stuff to be confiscated, no matter what the author thinks about it.

    "Computers are the main vehicle for IPR infringments", says IFPI, the organisation behind this law and thinking that it won't affect the supposed primary vehicle is plain stupid. No matter how inconvinient it would be, it's not _their_ inconvinience, but yours.

    And you don't matter. That should be clear to anybody who flies.

  14. Steve Evans

    @Daniel B

    I imagine the 50,000 counterfeit DVDs weren't the obvious pirate burnt copies you swap with your mates, rather the more serious full monty pressed pirate DVDs from some dodgy fab plant in the far east.

  15. Mark

    Fair dealing is not the whole picture

    There's also the turning copy.

    And since copyright is a civil infraction and can only generate damages (which are non-existent for any fair use usage as pertaining to the US definition), there was no need to encode "fair use" into copyright law in the UK.

    However, when RIAA and their UK arm leant on the lawmakers in the UK, they only asked (and got) a criminal offense update to copyright law and "forgot" to update the coverage of fair use/dealing.

  16. Paul

    intention matters nought, it's what it says

    as "mark" said above, no matter how much they say "this law is intended to"m, the powers that be - police, HMRC, etc - will use the law in whatever way they can to get the results they want.

    the abuse of anti-terror powers is proven. Mugabe would just *love* to have the powers that the UK gov't have granted themselves!


  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So what did Customs do before ACTA?

    "ACTA will seek to crack down on large-scale illegal disc production - impounding 50,000 dodgy copies of Hancock found in a shipping container, for instance"

    That would suggest that Customs don't already have more than sufficient powers (and incentive) to crack down on this type of behaviour.

    Whatever ACTA is really supposed to be for, it's not about giving Customs power to do what they already do all the time.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Leaked paper

    Doesn't it bother anyone that a discussion that affects us all is discussed in secret?

    We have to guess at the detail behind the bullet points in a leaked memo, negotiated by an unelected official with a foreign power?

    Doesn't it both anyone that the foreign power knows more about the details than the PEOPLE OF THE EU? And the lobbyists are in the loop but the public not?

    It f***ing well bothers me. No I'm happy that the Lisbon agreement is dead, and having been pro-EU for years, I even now wouldn't mind if the EU just collapsed. Barrosso's lot have been such a pain, so many anti-citizen measures, so many negatives, I think the last 4 years have undone so much of the last 50 years of the European treaty.

    The risk of yet another f**ing anti citizen EU Commission is so great, it's better to have small nation states than another lot of these people.

    They raised the internal borders, restricted capital movement, removed protections of individuals, pissed all over the fundamental rights.

    Yeh, maybe the sceptics are right and the European Union should dissolve. F*ck ACTA. F*ck EU.

  19. Watashi

    ACTA for piracy AND file sharers

    It is easy to dismiss this proposal as only being intended to fight large scale piracy. However, piracy is to be dealt with through criminal proceedings, it is the other bits that can potentially be applied to us. The interesting bits come at the end, the first two under the heading of Civil enforcement:

    - Authority to order ex parte searches and other preliminary measures.

    - Damages adequate to compensate, including measures designed to overcome the problem of rights holders not being able to get sufficient compensation due to the difficulty in establishing the full extent of damage.

    And the third bit comes under Internet:

    - Legal regime, including safeguards for ISPs from liability, to encourage ISPs to co-operate with right holders in the removal of infringing material.

    The first means that the criminal justice system will be able to grant warrants to the police to search your possessions solely for the purpose of finding copyright infringing materials. At the moment, the police need to demonstrate reasonable suspicion that you are engaged in criminal piracy to obtain such a warrant.

    The second relates to the fact that at the moment the BMI can only sue you to cover the losses from what copyright it can PROVE you have infringed. If you have a collection of The Beatles' back catalogue on your PC, they can only sue you to reclaim the costs of what you should have paid for on CD. Here it suggests that compensation should be paid for a hypothetical amount of copies of those files that you have given other people through P2P. Essentially, the new laws would encourage governments to set minimum levels of 'compensation' for the act of file sharing in general rather than specific acts of file sharing. The BMI would only have to prove that you have used P2P to download a single mp3, and you would count as a file-sharer and so be subject to what is effectively a fine of several thousand pounds. The proposal is designed to criminalise file sharing without actually making file sharing a criminal offence.

    The final point is the big one, because it demonstrates that ACTA is not just about large scale piracy, but about civilian file sharing too. At the moment, ISPs could be taken to court themselves for allowing people to file share via their internet service. This proposal protects ISPs from being sued, but only if they comply with the demands of the BMI, RIAA etc. And as we all know, piracy is not the big issue with internet copyright infringement; it's the behaviour of Average Joes they are targeting.

    So, the papers are wrong about border searches of your mp3 player – but El Reg is wrong to suggest that individual infringers have nothing to worry about from ACTA.

  20. Adam Williamson
    Thumb Down


    AC @Cann is exactly correct. The default attitude of customs officers the world over is that everyone is guilty of everything unless proven otherwise.

    The second time I flew into Canada I was pulled out of the customs line and accused of being either a drug smuggling kingpin / mule / just on drugs (it was never quite clear which). After my wallet apparently tested positive for traces of coke (what was that stat about 95% of banknotes testing positive for coke? I've never even SEEN the stuff...) he searched all my bags five times (finding nothing at all), again accused me of being on drugs ("you seem nervous, and your pupils are dilated" - well, gee, I just got pulled off a 13 hour transatlantic flight where I didn't sleep at all and accused of being Don Corleone or something, wouldn't you be nervous?) and eventually let me go with the words "I'm sure you're doing something wrong, I just can't find anything so I have to let you go".

    If they were allowed to search the contents of your laptop, anything that looked even *vaguely* dodgy that you couldn't provide a damn watertight paper trail for would lead to your laptop getting confiscated. Bet on it.

    Especially if you weren't white, I bet.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    after dodgy goods on ebay?

    maybe thet are after the fake TAG watches etc on ebay

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Not a big change IMHO

    If you're a big time criminal it seems to me that sending illegal content to your mates across borders is child's play and will remain so. Just FTP an encrypted file and how are the border guards going to know anything about it? Physical media are not required.

    This law is clearly designed to disrupt the transfer of physical goods, like counterfeit disks and fake Rolexes, etc. That's a sensible goal because border controls together with raids on production plants could potentially keep counterfeit goods out of certain areas. Well, in theory anyway, but I can't see it working.

    Whether the law will be abused at borders is another question. As always, I expect this will depend on how suspicious you look and what colour your skin is. If they want to hassle you, they will, whether there's a law that allows it or not (remember UK customs impounding cars on perfectly legal booze trips across the channel?). Even without this law, if a customs officer wants to take a look at your laptop, it's a brave soul who tries to argue he doesn't have the legal right to do so. And the customs officer knows that. So how will anything really change?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I trust the government

    After all they would never misuse legislation to, oh I don't know, detain 80 something year old RAF veterans at a party conference for shouting out "nonsense" would they?

  24. Eddie Johnson
    Black Helicopters

    Don't be short sighted

    Allowing the govt to pass onerous legislation simply because its not practical for them to enforce it is just stupid. A few years from now they WILL have the processing power and ability to scan every person's handheld as they pass thru customs, and they will be able to because the people allowed them to pass a law we didn't think they would be able to enforce.

    Their track record shows they will extend and expand any power they are granted so they can not be trusted to exercise discretion.

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. David Pollard

    @AC - Leaked paper

    "Doesn't it bother anyone that a discussion that affects us all is discussed in secret? ... having been pro-EU for years, I ... now wouldn't mind if the EU just collapsed."

    Though overall there is more than enough political posturing and so forth in the EU-sceptic camp, some of us have been rightly concerned about the secrecy, bureaucracy and erosion of freedom for quite some while.

  27. David Haworth

    Blast from the past...

    I didn't know that our Anthony Aloysius St John ( was so popular wiv the yoof of today.

    Mine's the Astrakhan on the peg with the Homburg.

  28. A J Stiles

    Fair Dealing in UK

    Fair Dealing is a defence to a charge of copyright infringement. If you were acquitted by a jury -- and where are they going to find 12 people who have never taped an album to listen in the car? -- then whatever you were accused of would become officially legal. The record companies, and the bent coppers (who need excuses for fishing trips; more than one search warrant has been obtained on the basis of a home-taped cassette found in a suspect's car), wouldn't like that. It would never get to court.

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