By Al Jigong Billings
My friend, Jacob Appelbaum, pointed me at this article today. It discusses the "Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement" (ACTA), which the G8 governments are about to ratify. This isn't just an anti-counterfeiting agreement but also an anti-piracy one.
A draft version of ACTA is available on wikileaks.org for your reading. The wikileaks page states:
The agreement covers the copying of information or ideas in a wide variety of contexts. For example page three, paragraph one is a "Pirate Bay killer" clause designed to criminalize the non-profit facilitation of unauthorized information exchange on the internet. This clause would also negatively affect transparency and primary source journalism sites such as Wikileaks. The document reveals a proposal for a multi-lateral trade agreement of strict enforcement of intellectual property rights related to Internet activity and trade in information-based goods hiding behind the issue of false trademarks. If adopted, a treaty of this form would impose a strong, top-down enforcement regime, with new cooperation requirements upon internet service providers, including perfunctionary disclosure of customer information. The proposal also bans "anti-circumvention" measures which may affect online anonymity systems and would likely outlaw multi-region CD/DVD players.
As the article at The Guardian notes, the agreement may allow for customs authorities, for example, to search your electronic devices when crossing borders for any illegal content. As most of us have heard, there has been noise lately about U.S. Customs or the Department of Homeland Security conducting seizures and searches of laptops in the recent past. This would just go further along the line of making these sort of things standard, at the whim of agents, when crossing borders, either for the United States or Europe. There is an editorial at The New York Times today on the very issue of the Department of Homeland Security searching laptops at borders. The editorial states:
There have been widespread reports of the government searching — and often seizing — laptops, BlackBerrys, iPhones and other portable electronic devices at airports. It is not clear how often these searches occur, and the government will not say. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives says that of 100 people who responded to a survey it conducted this year, 7 said they had had a laptop or other electronic device seized.
Many of these sorts of things seem to be converging this year and it is possible that some kind of treaty or law will attempt to change the landscape when it comes to Internet file sharing or piracy over the next few years. Of course, since, by a number of accounts, most people online have illegally copied a file at one point or another, one must wonder what kind of effects this will have. As with the FISA changes passed in the U.S. senate yesterday, this kind of thing is yet another reason to encrypt all data, everywhere, all of the time.