Data Shows Homeland Security Is Lying When It Claims Intellectual Property Seizures Are About Health & Safety

from the just-not-true dept

For quite some time, intellectual property maximalists have seized upon an incredibly dishonest (though all too frequently successful with policy makers) strategy of conflating a variety of different issues to make it appear that extreme enforcement of copyright and trademark law was all about “protecting the safety of Americans.” This was a key point made by SOPA’s biggest cheerleaders at the US Chamber of Commerce. They took a very, very, very tiny number of cases where safety was an issue (things like counterfeit drugs) and lumped them into a huge category of infringement (online file sharing) where no safety was at issue — and despite the issues being entirely unrelated, they would then claim we needed SOPA to protect the safety of Americans.

This particular sleight of hand has been long adopted by the Department of Homeland Security, and in particular its Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division, whose former boss, John Mortin, used to regularly interchange and conflate these issues to make all kinds of infringement be considered a massive “safety” threat to the public. And, of course the White House’s big “strategic plan” concerning intellectual property enforcement insists that “health and safety” are among its “primary concerns.” However, with Homeland Security releasing its latest stats concerning intellectual property “seizures,” it’s become quite clear that they very rarely have anything to do with health and safety, but much more often are just about protecting the business models of large companies (like the one John Mortin went to work for after leaving ICE).

As Jonathan Band points out in the link above, there doesn’t seem to be very much “health and safety” protection behind these efforts.

The DHS report for IP seizures for 2012 contains statistics for seizures of counterfeit goods harmful to safety and security. In 2012, this category contained only 11.5% of counterfeit goods seized, measured by estimated MSRP of the goods. The safety and security category likewise represented just 14.8 % of the number of seizures. In 2011, 17.5% of the counterfeit goods seized fell within the safety and security category, and 17.6% of the number of seizures.

Although the March 24, 2014 press release focuses on health and safety, the actual report for 2013 seizures does not contain a breakdown for the safety and security category, unlike the report for 2012. Using the same methodology as the 2012 report, the safety and security category in 2013 can be estimated to contain less than 10% of the value of good seized, and under 14% of the number of seizures.

In short, for the past three years, counterfeit goods threatening safety and security represent significantly less than 20% of the goods seized, measured either by the value of the goods or the number of seizures. Moreover, the percentage of dangerous counterfeit goods is decreasing.

In fact, Band points out that it seems rather questionable that DHS is insisting that “a great deal more needs to be done to protect the public from the health and safety threats that counterfeiters pose” when it doesn’t appear that DHS is actually paying much attention to actual health and safety issues at all.

In 2013, fully 40% of the value of seized goods fell in the handbags/wallets category. Another 30% was in the watches/jewelry category. As noted above, less than 10% of the value related to safety and security. Similarly, 35% of the number of seizures involved wearing apparel/accessories, while under 14% of the number of seizures concerned safety and security goods.

It certainly is possible that some consumers are deceived when they purchase counterfeit handbags, watches, and accessories. But most consumers know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase “luxury” items at a deep discount on Canal Street. In contrast, no consumer intentionally buys fake pharmaceuticals that could kill him. Any dollar spent on intercepting a counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag or Rolex watch is a dollar not spent protecting U.S. consumers from counterfeit drugs and automotive parts.

There is one other possible interpretation of the small and decreasing share of safety and security seizures: that the threat of counterfeit products dangerous to health and safety has been grossly exaggerated by rights holders and the government to justify DHS’s IP enforcement budget. In other words, protecting public health and safety has largely been a pretext for government spending on protecting the commercial interests of corporate rights holders – many of which are foreign owned.

What? DHS and ICE using claims of “health and safety” as a pretext to protect business interests? How could that possibly be…?

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Comments on “Data Shows Homeland Security Is Lying When It Claims Intellectual Property Seizures Are About Health & Safety”

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trollificus (profile) says:

Re: Budget increase dartboard

When government departments want to request budget increases, they have a dartboard that scores, from the outside in:

Outer: Safety
2nd: Health
3rd: National for the children

They usually go with any two of the above.

If the dart misses the target they request higher budget to bring in more budget proposal specialists. For the children.

Daily Dose Of Truth says:

Re: Re: Re:

So… the ENTIRE US economy is based around IP and piracy could kill us all by ruining the economy?

Hmm… maybe I should stop working on construction sites since they are not helping the US economy because they don’t use IP.

Why bother working if its just a bubble waiting to collapse?


Really, the IP industry is TINY. Don’t forget your garbageman, sewer workers, roofers, welders, heavy machine operators, architects, recycle plant operators etc, etc. who DO NOT USE AND DO NOT NEED any form of IP from trademarks, to copyright, to patents to produce good work each time and continue to do so.

These kinds of jobs drive the economy far more than one that claims it needs IP but are easily forgotten.

Daily Dose Of Truth says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Forgot something…

Another 2 ways of looking at this is, should the government, which is supposed to be anti-monopoly because of the trouble they cause for the public, allow ANY business to get so big that if it’s profits are hurt the ENTIRE NATION’S security is undermined?

Or alternatively, why should the government intervene/bail out ANY failing business if this is a “free market?” If the market should be trusted to correct itself and weed out the bad ideas why should the government help ANY business that is failing? If it’s failing it’s idea no longer works and therefore needs to be updated to remain relevant, or it needs to die.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

DDoT, there’s no such thing as a free market; artificial constraints such as hoarding will always be available, disguised as property rights to avert regulatory interference.

The idea that the market can correct itself presupposes an equal balance between the demand and supply sides. There’s no such balance and there never is. One side always has the advantage. In IPR, the supply side owns the damn market and they think it doesn’t need correcting, we do.

Whatever says:


This is a pretty classic tale of someone taking a category in a report, and trying to pin it down without realizing the full scope of things.

Generally, when something is safety related in counterfeit goods, it’s usually something that is clearly defective and dangerous, say like fake phone chargers or other electronic equipment that claims to be UL standard but is not. Those are very extreme cases, and that represents a certain part of what gets picked up. You could say that the investigations into these goods is as a result of failures reported by consumers of the goods.

There are other things that are less obvious, and may not be listed as specifically safety related. There are plenty of knock off toys and such that are just unsafe to use, or contain too much lead in the paint, or whatever. They may not be listed in safety related because they were initially seized because they were brand knock offs. You can google for reports of children’s clothes from China that are flammable, as an example.

So the number of “safety related” in the report may only show those seizures done specifically and expressly because of failures detected by consumers, and may not include others. It doesn’t do anything to prove or disprove the agency’s goals or desires to protect consumers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: classic

The chemicals in oil fracking operations are shown to contaminate ground water and cause earthquakes. Yet the US government allows these operations to continue despite the health and safety risks they pose to the general public.

The only reason I can think of for these fracking operations to continue, is that they’re highly profitable. Which implies that profitability is the US Gov’s #1 concern, not public health or safety.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Now for the News

A fawning DHS sourced consumers group exclaimed: “Those brave DHS agents saved us from being eaten by those fake alligator handbags. How wonderful!” reported Fox News Anchors who were immediately parroted by MSNBC, which caused Rueters and AP to spread the word. Editorials screaming for the protection of fake alligators then dominated the major print media followed by a 60 Minutes expose on the treatment of fake alligators in captivity, focusing on the poor quality of the feed.

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