Canadian Government Wants to Search Your Laptop

This appeared in today’s Province: New documents have been leaked showing the Canadian federal government is secretly negotiating an agreement to turn border guards and other public security personnel into copyright police. They would be charged with checking laptops, iPods and even cellphones for content that “infringes” on copyright laws, such as ripped-off CDs and movies. The guards would determine what infringes copyright.

This is being done under the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – interestingly, federal trade agreements do not require parliamentary approval.

Seriously – are you kidding me? Just how, exactly, is this going to work?

“Sir, do you have your iTunes receipt for this copy of “In Da Club”? No? Then I suspect it’s illegal. Thanks for the free laptop!”

When border guards are incapable of recognizing that a MacBook Air is a real computer (the TSA was stumped by this for a while until they issued new guidance), how can we expect them to correctly judge what is or isn’t “infringing”?

Now that I think about it, why stop here? Why not also have them check everyone for “stolen” articles?

“Sir, do you have your receipt for the pair of Gap jeans you’re wearing? No? I think you stole them. Thanks for the free pants! Now, about that underwear…”

This smacks of bureaucracy that doesn’t actually solve a real problem – but it’s nothing new. A few years ago, the Canadian Copyright Board added a tax to blank media to remunerate artists for lost revenue due to “private copying”. As of 2007, the tax had generated over $100M using this tax – portions of this levy applied to iPod-type devices were struck down, echoing a similar finding in 2004.

We need to see a little public outrage over this.

Uh Oh: TSA Can Search Laptops

A US Ninth Circuit court ruling this week has asserted that computers are like luggage and are therefore subject to searches at borders and airports. This is a scary revelation for anyone in the computer industry who is practically inseparable from their laptop.

Unlike luggage, a laptop is a vessel for storing sensitive corporate data, personal financial information, and in many cases, just about everything a person has ever done (I, for example, have email archives dating back to 1996).

This is yet another reason to start protecting your data using applications like PGP Whole Disk Encryption (for whom I used to work), or Open Source alternatives like TrueCrypt. However, given that a state court has already ruled that the TSA can’t force you to divulge your passphrase, I have to wonder how long it is before the TSA lobbies for a software equivalent to the ominous TSA travel locks?