Why Should Customs Officers Be Determining What Counts As A Copyright Circumvention Device?

from the border-patrol dept

Some of the earliest fears around ACTA concerned some of the earliest draft suggestions, that would increase the power of border patrol/customs officials to look for infringement at the border, including the possibility of searching your laptop or iPod for infringing content. While those provisions mostly seemed to drop out in the negotiations, it doesn't mean that there aren't still efforts to get closer to that sort of system. Mart Kuhn, at Public Knowledge, has an interesting post, looking at a bill in the Senate that would give customs the authority to determine if things crossing the border were "circumvention devices" as prohibited by the DMCA. Of course, as the article notes, determining what is and what is not a circumvention device is not particularly easy -- as various lawsuits have demonstrated. So it's quite questionable as to why anyone thinks border patrol agents should be involved in that process at all.

But a bigger issue is the same one at the heart of the debate over whether or not customs officials should have the right to search your laptop at the border. If the point of border patrol/customs is to prevent bad things from getting into the country, it's pretty ridiculous to try to prevent software at the border, because that software has already totally crossed over the border via the still mostly borderless internet. So this whole thing seems like a charade to look for more ways to take away basic privacy rights in favor of an entertainment industry that is so afraid someone might infringe that it doesn't realize trying to stop circumvention at the border won't do anything other than cause serious hassles for legitimate travelers.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 6:56pm

    Damn! There goes my plan to smuggle 500 copies of VLC into the US via the Canadian border!

     

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    BearGriz72 (profile), May 25th, 2010 @ 7:04pm

    What's the problem?

    I am sure that ANY Customs Officer can spot "A Copyright Circumvention Device" on sight right?
    /sarcasm

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 9:56pm

      Re: What's the problem?

      Of course they can spot "Copyright Circumvention Devices", its those powerpoint presentations they get online for an hour every 6 months that make them experts.

      Sorry lady you can have your hair dryer back now, and sir I am keeping this spoon ...

       

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    NAMELESS ONE, May 25th, 2010 @ 7:06pm

    Because

    Because they want more people to visit the united states and be pestered by retarded copyright laws?

    OR maybe its a plot by the bankers to gt even with the economy and totally wrap it into a big turd flush?

     

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    NAMELESS ONE, May 25th, 2010 @ 7:08pm

    OH Almost forgot

    Because we know they all have higher education working at minimum wage and thus there massive superior IQ's will spot everything.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 7:54pm

    How long before they try to stop people bringing in cameras etc, because they have CCD marked on the side of them?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 7:55pm

    answer to #5

    tomorrow

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 8:44pm

    Dammit, Jim! I'm a customs agent not an IT professional!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 9:31pm

    Governments just want to control everything that has value to the unequitable benefit of the top one percent.

     

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    Colonel Panik, May 25th, 2010 @ 9:38pm

    Crossing over

    No matter how paranoid or conspiracy minded your are
    what your government is actually doing is worse than you
    can imagine.

     

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    trench0r (profile), May 25th, 2010 @ 10:17pm

    so I think I've figured it out

    if you cause hassles for legitimate customers, they will think the problem is somehow so severe that "this is what it has come to".. and so it breeds this air of severity

    it would be nice if they smartened up, with the justice dept in their pocket I don't see them dying ANYTIME EVER

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 10:29pm

    it is pretty simple. anything you bring across the border is subject to search, including your butt. it would not be hard to supply field agents with a list of known circumvention software, perhaps a simple detection tool similar to a virus scan.

     

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      lfroen (profile), May 25th, 2010 @ 11:18pm

      Re:

      "simple detection tool"? One that will run on any hardware and OS? Good luck with this plan.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 11:29pm

      Re:

      >it would not be hard to supply field agents with a list of known circumvention software, perhaps a simple detection tool similar to a virus scan.

      aye, so easy even an angry tam could do it.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 25th, 2010 @ 11:40pm

      Re:

      Bullshit.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2010 @ 5:10am

      Re:

      it would not be hard to supply field agents with a list of known circumvention software, perhaps a simple detection tool similar to a virus scan.

      The variations of such circumvention software could approach infinity. Listing an infinite number of discreet items is not "simple".

       

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      chris (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 7:39am

      Re:

      it's possible to pack binaries to evade signature based detection. compression and encryption, when combined, produce working binaries that are tough to fingerprint:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_obfuscation

      you can pack the same binary multiple ways so you get progames that are functionally identical, but have vastly different bits.

      packing is how a lot of malware slips past AV scanners and Intrustion Detection Systems:
      http://www.finjan.com/MCRCblog.aspx?EntryId=1695

      this is different than just keeping stuff in an encrypted volume. for one, it's easier since the binaries just work with no work on the users' part. pretty much all commercial software is obfuscated in order to impair reverse engineering, so chances are you are running packed binaries on your computer right now. also, a big encrypted block on a drive might keep your data safe, but it would give border types a reason to detain your or otherwise harass you into decrypting your data for inspection.

      of course there is always deniable crypto:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deniable_encryption

      it's a volume that decrypts one of two ways depending on the key entered, so you have a "safe" version and an "unsafe" version, depending on your audience.

      there is a deniable crypto option built into truecrypt called hidden volumes:
      http://www.truecrypt.org/docs/?s=hidden-volume

      that said, it would be better all around to just keep your stuff somewhere online and not on disk so you can pull it down once you are over the border.

      it's also probably a good idea to travel with an older laptop/cheap netbook so it's not a financial hardship if it gets confiscated/destroyed at the border.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2010 @ 8:26am

        Re: Re:

        you miss the point. if you are going to go to that level to hide things, it is on par with swallowing condoms full of heroin to transport it. there is always a way to evade detection, to get something over on "the man". if you are willing to take the time to crypto stuff on your system, then more power to you.

        however, i would say that the border guards might think you are trying to transport kiddy porn or al-qaida secrets, so you might want to have a seat over there, as you are going to be in customs for a while.

         

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          chris (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 8:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          you miss the point. if you are going to go to that level to hide things, it is on par with swallowing condoms full of heroin to transport it.

          way to only read half the post, no wonder you AC's are so uninformed.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2010 @ 8:47pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            i read the whole post. you miss the point. it isnt just a laptop getting confiscated, its you spending time in a federal holding cell while they take the time to decrypt stuff if you hid anything on there. financial hardship over lose the computer is the least of your problems when you are in customs.

             

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              Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2010 @ 9:27pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              In the event the whole decryption exercise turns out to be a complete waste of time, the time spent in the holding cell will be worth the tsunami of backlash this plan would receive.

               

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              chris (profile), May 27th, 2010 @ 7:29am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              i read the whole post. you miss the point. it isnt just a laptop getting confiscated, its you spending time in a federal holding cell while they take the time to decrypt stuff if you hid anything on there.

              and you still miss mine. i said this:

              this is different than just keeping stuff in an encrypted volume... a big encrypted block on a drive might keep your data safe, but it would give border types a reason to detain your or otherwise harass you into decrypting your data for inspection.

              then i said this:

              that said, it would be better all around to just keep your stuff somewhere online and not on disk so you can pull it down once you are over the border.

              as in, you could encrypt stuff, but packing binaries so your circumvention tools evade detection in the open, or just leaving your stuff online and pulling it down after you cross the border would be better.

              you also miss the larger point: it's so easy for serious circumvent-ers to evade searches at the border, so why are border patrols bothering with them at all? all these searches will do is harass innocent people. copyright circumvention will continue unimpeded and the only people who suffer will be the ones who get hassled at airports.

              this is the same argument against DRM: DRM doesn't keep media products off of file sharing sites so why bother with it? all it does is inconvenience your paying customers and if you screw it up badly enough, it will actually drive them to piracy.

              it's one thing for media companies to waste their money on something as futile as trying to stop file sharing. it's their money, they can throw it away if they want to. it's another for governments to waste tax payer dollars harassing people at the border. it's not their money, it's yours.

               

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      Clark Cox (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 10:35am

      Re:

      Simple detection tool?

      I'll be damned if any border agent is going to run their software on my hardware.

      I'd rather wipe the drive and restore from backup when I got to where I was going.

       

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    Sajjon, May 25th, 2010 @ 11:47pm

    Re: Encryption

    Just Ruhhhtarded..If they have the time to crack 256 bit encryption I say have at it. Should provide a significant manning boost to our borders :P

    PS: CCD = your laptop

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2010 @ 5:12am

      Re: Re: Encryption

      Just Ruhhhtarded..If they have the time to crack 256 bit encryption I say have at it.

      You might change your mind sitting in that holding cell while waiting for them to do it.

       

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    identicon
    seb, May 26th, 2010 @ 12:12am

    Crikey,

    said the customs officer. This guy has a fully functional C development environment on their portable computer: emacs, gcc, gdb, you name it!
    He could program anything with it, including copyright-circumventing software, viruses, you name it.
    Let's lock him up and throw away the key.

     

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    Charles, May 26th, 2010 @ 12:45am

    I'd just load a dual boot where you have to press a non-prompt key to load the actual OS vs. loading/showing border patrol a "clean" install of say... windows 3.11... lol I bet they'd be like... is this new..?? lol

     

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    Richard (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 2:16am

    Yeah that 'll work

    From Bruce Schneier's blog - www.schneier.com

    "Scene from an Airport

    I've gotten to the front of the security line and handed the TSA officer my ID and ticket.

    TSA Officer: (Looks at my ticket. Looks at my ID. Looks at me. Smiles.)

    Me: (Smiles back.)

    TSA Officer: (Looks at my ID. Looks at me. Smiles.)

    Me: (Tips hat. Smiles back.)

    TSA Officer: A beloved name from the blogosphere.

    Me: And I always thought that I slipped through these lines anonymously.

    TSA Officer: Don't worry. No one will notice. This isn't the sort of job that rewards competence, you know.

    Me: Have a good day."

     

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    out_of_the_blue, May 26th, 2010 @ 4:26am

    "cause serious hassles for legitimate travelers"

    Those who are profiting DON'T CARE whether you're hassled or stripped of all rights and sent to Gitmo, innocent or not.

    The sole way to end this erosion of your natural rights in favor of corporate profit-making granted rights is to recall that The Rich used to be rightly perceived as the enemy of civil society, and to limit the power of these "economic royalists". (Until the tendencies and excesses of The Rich became too evident to ignore, I never had any use for FDR...)

     

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    NAMELESS ONE, May 26th, 2010 @ 4:40am

    fingers are used in circumvention ( untying a knot )

    wow so they will be chopping off fingers and hands now?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2010 @ 5:17am

      Re: fingers are used in circumvention ( untying a knot )

      wow so they will be chopping off fingers and hands now?

      That depends. Have you been posting comments critical of copyright on Techdirt?

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2010 @ 5:04am

    Damn ... no more sharpies.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2010 @ 5:06am

    Should I remove my shift keys prior to going thru customs ?

     

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    David Allsebrook, May 26th, 2010 @ 6:33am

    A souvinir to take home?

    Copyright is a bargain where a state gives a monopoly in exchange for certain rights to the public to use the work, including copying for private study, research, and freedom to copy after the term. Don't take my word for it, James Madison said this was the rationale for Copyright when he put it in the U.S. Constitution, and the Canadian Supreme Court said this is its foundation in its latest copyright decision.

    A digital lock breaches that agreement and forfeits the copyright. So do many license agreements, e.g., that limit reverse engineering.

    A digital lock prevents both legal and illegal copying. A device for circumventing it is not therefore a copyright circumvention device. It is the lock which is the copyright circumvention device.

    Any digital computer can have a program to pick a digital lock.

    Who else gets the customs service to police their private property rights. How do taxpayers hold still for that?

    When homeland security loads software onto your computer/device to look for lock picking software, what else does it look for? What software do they leave on the device?

    Remember, the present US law is the customs can seize any digital device coming into the US for investigation without probable cause.

    Good luck.

     

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      chris (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 7:56am

      Re: A souvinir to take home?

      A digital lock prevents both legal and illegal copying. A device for circumventing it is not therefore a copyright circumvention device. It is the lock which is the copyright circumvention device.

      it doesn't matter. the DMCA makes all circumvention illegal. how do you win a game that cannot be won? by changing the rules.

      When homeland security loads software onto your computer/device to look for lock picking software, what else does it look for? What software do they leave on the device?

      Remember, the present US law is the customs can seize any digital device coming into the US for investigation without probable cause.


      as always, the relentless march of technological progress is the solution.

      falling prices on mobile phones have made them disposable. in time the same will be true of media players and laptops, indeed, for a no-frills music player it is already true. when laptops or netbooks reach a similar price point, the people who are serious about privacy will pick one up for a trip into/out of the US and dispose of it upon return.

       

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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 7:06am

    Guess I'll be leaving my photocopier at home now. =(

     

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    jsf (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 7:18am

    This could be even worse then you might think depending on how things are worded. The US Border Patrol can make stops and searches anywhere within 100 miles of the national border. This covers something like 70%+ of the US population. So in theory they could stop your car in the middle of New York city and search for this kind of stuff.

     

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    Adam Bell (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 11:37am

    "... because that software has already totally crossed over the border via the still mostly borderless internet. ..." Clearly you're not familiar with Canadian Internet experience. Try to view a link on Comedy Central found in a US site or a link to Hulu, for example. Restricted to US audiences unless you have an US proxy account.

     

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    Ray Trygstad (profile), May 26th, 2010 @ 2:32pm

    Guess I better delete Handbrake from my notebook before crossing back.

    Seriously.

    If they have even a margin of a clue, this one would be THE product to nail you on.

     

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    DH's Love Child, May 26th, 2010 @ 3:10pm

    Well, my company will love this

    as I do a LOT of international traveling and take a fair amount of equipment that could be used (though isn't) for circumvention. This will help the travel industry...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2010 @ 10:56am

    pencil and paper

     

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