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Gadgets safe from global airport anti-piracy plan

Conspiracy theory not conspiracy fact

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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 officials granted the power to examine travellers' gadgets for digital contraband.

The scheme is enshrined in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), drawn up to combat intellectual property theft.

However, a closer reading of ACTA reveals the agreement is actually focused on large-scale commercial piracy and - as The Register has reported before - online file-sharing.

According to a leaked ACTA discussion paper (PDF), the international agreement’s key objective is to establish “a common standard for IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) enforcement” to "combat global infringements of IPR ,particularly in the context of counterfeiting and piracy". Its focus is "IPR infringements for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain".

The agreement sees border controls as a key battleground in the fight, and it talks about measures allowing customs to “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.

But while the discussion paper mentions the need to enact the power to make "ex parte searches", there's nothing to suggest it has individuals' laptops, mobiles and media players in mind - even if such searches were remotely practical, which they are not.

And how would officials identify tracks or videos as illegal copies?

The real story? 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 - but these measures will primarily apply to countries known to produce large quantities of illegal discs.

ACTA may never become law, and if it does, which potentially IPR-infringing goods will be checked – and where – remains unknown. 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, for dodgy MP3s at the very least.

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