Thursday, May 29, 2008

Uncustomary customs?

According to this article we could be in for changes when crossing the borders. I realize that for many of you "wikileaks" may not be the news gospel, but realize that it's just reposting a canwest news article that also appears in the Financial Post and the Vancouver Sun.

Key points in the article:

  • Security officials would be charged with checking laptops, iPods and even cellular phones for content that "infringes" on copyright laws, such as ripped CDs and movies.

  • Guards would be responsible for determining what is infringing content and what is not, as well as the authority to order "ex parte searches" (without a lawyer present)

  • Officials should be given the "authority to take action against infringers".

  • Infringers with content in their possession would be open to a fine and they may also have their device confiscated or destroyed.

  • Federal trade agreements do not require parliamentary approval.

  • Would include Canada, US and EU.

So let us think about this for a few seconds:

I think it's safe to say at least 75% of the folks crossing the Canada-US border these days is carrying either an iPod, a cell phone, a laptop, or a combination of the above. If the border guards decided to strictly enforce this they would need to scan all of these devices for infringing material. So in my personal case, I'm crossing the border with my laptop (150 GB), cell phone (2GB) and iPod (80GB). At the very basic level, that is ~230 GB of data that needs to be scanned somehow. Let's make the big assumption that they have all the hardware/software necessary to scan these three separate devices, and people trained to use all this hardware and software. According to BareFeats the fastest they could conceivably consider reading my portable is about 42 MB a second. So we're possibly looking at up to an hour just to scan my portable alone (150 GB / 42 MB / 60 seconds = 59.51 minutes. Now there is ways they could optimize this, but still even if they optimized it down to 5 minutes (this includes the time required to start the software, plug in machines, get machines out of bags, boot machines, etc) can you imagine how much slower customs could become? Now just to complicate matters a little more, my portable is a Mac (what will they do with a Linux machine? How about something even more esoteric?), it has a Windows partition with XP on it (I sometimes need to check out websites in IE to make sure that IE hasn't destroyed perfectly good HTML), and my home directory is FileVaulted for security. So far we haven't even begun to explore the requirements to scan my iPod, which is simpler due to it's ubiquity and simpler interface but is even slower due to USB2, and my phone which I assume they would scan via BlueTooth @ .2 MB per second (BlueTooth 2...BlueTooth 1 is way worse). Now what about flash cards, SD cards, and the multitude of other media carrying devices. Yes I do realize this is a worst case scenario, but it does illustrate the amount of power being given here, and the lack of thought that is going into it.

Now the article only mentions ripped CDs and movies, but what about MP3s? How about software? I'm sure Microsoft would love to check for illegal OS installs. Adobe is keen on cutting down on what they estimate is a piracy rate of at least 50%. How about photos?

So let's say that they have figured all this out, and can scan all my hardware using some new amazing device in a matter of seconds (imagine a metal detector that scans computer hardware instantaneously). We now have the "people" factor. This act appears to enable the customs guard to act as police and judge with no jury. These are complicated technical issues. Digital Copyright is amazingly murky law causing lawyers who have studied it for years problems. How are we supposed to allow these decisions to be made on a case by case basis by customs officials at the border? Especially when they have the right to destroy and infringing items.

I have trouble believing the European union is involved in this, but have no trouble believing that DCMA lobbyists in the US and Canada have managed to convince somebody that this is a good idea. Remember folks, the internet is made of tubes. Sigh....

Even it's name is misleading. They do use the term counterfeiting correctly in: "Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement", but at first glance most people would interpret this as a bill to avoid copying currency, where in truth it has nothing to do with currency.

For the Americans who are reading this, the following representatives are helping this along:

  • Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA)

  • Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)

  • Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA)

  • Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)

  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

May be worth contacting them to let them know how you feel...

By the way I realize that the intent of this law is to stop only "big commercial infringers" but so far we've seen what the RIAA and the MPAA have felt free to do with the DCMA.

1 comment:

emd said...

As for most things copyright related, Michael Geist is your man...and he seems to agree with you: