Big Brother Alert: Government airport searches of iPods for pirated media in the works - Macenstein

Big Brother Alert: Government airport searches of iPods for pirated media in the works

Well, I didn’t think it was possible, but government officials may have found a way to slow down the airport screening process even further. According to, legislation is actively being looked at in Australia and other countries (including the US) that would allow for officials to inspect laptops and iPods at airport customs and search for pirated music and movies.

There is no word yet as to how they would go about determining whether the music is pirated, or whether a specific threshold of pirated tracks (1 or 1000) would be enough to land you in trouble, but just the fact that the discussions have even gotten this far is fairly disturbing.

A slippery slope

I’m not really what you would call a privacy nut. In all those movies where the government has a machine that monitors every phone call on the planet searching for terms like “assassinate” and “bomb”, I admit there’s a part of me that thinks, “Hey, well, That would be cool. I know I’m not planning to kill anyone….(yet). So as long as it catches the bad guy, go for it.” In fact, my life is so ordinary and boring, I really don’t care if the government knows where I am at all times, and God help the poor sap who has the job of reading my e-mails or listening to my phone calls.

However, those are life and death situations we are talking about – with high tech gear being used to prevent terrorism – not something as mundane as stopping a kid from ripping a DVD. Personally, I don’t download music illegally, but I DO have about 1300 CDs I bought that I have ripped, and I would have no way to prove I own those track while standing in line at airport customs. I also do not download movies illegally, but again, I have ripped some of the movies I own, as well as those I have rented on occasion. I know in theory the movie studios say this is illegal, but in my mind I have rationalized this as “what’s the difference if I rent a movie and watch it on my TV, or rent a movie, rip it, and watch it on my iPod?” Either way, I only watch the movie once (I haven’t seen a movie worth keeping in years), and pretty much always delete it to clear off room on my drives. Of course, “in my mind” probably wouldn’t work as a valid defense in a courtroom.

The problem here (aside from the obvious public embarrassment caused by an airport screener announcing all the porn I have on my laptop in a crowded terminal) is while I can almost rationalize government monitoring of phone calls to thwart terrorism, once this technology, and more importantly, this mindset of government monitoring, is in place in society, the line between what “crimes” the government can and can’t monitor for have a chance to become quite blurry.

Anyone who has taken a plane trip to Florida with the kids and decided to rip their Toy Story and Nemo DVDs to the iPod to keep them quiet on the plane (guilty) will likely think it a bit excessive when they are slapped with $250,000 fine for each of those movies, as well as 3 years in jail. Staying at Disney World is expensive enough as it is. That would nearly double the cost of the trip.

46 Responses to “Big Brother Alert: Government airport searches of iPods for pirated media in the works”
  1. Rick says:

    What a joke. Whats wrong with every one in the world?!?!!??! Arrgghhhfffppphhh!

  2. Dave-O says:

    Customs is not the security gate. TSA has a simple mandate–make flying safe (I didn’t say it was doing a good job), customs is a little more complicated. Some customs practices in some countries already include downloading images of laptop hard drives.

    You want to keep the kids quiet, not quite.

  3. Steve says:

    Seriously though, how are the authorities expected to be able to tell if a song on an iPod is pirated or not?

    If someone turns up with 20,000 songs are they deemed to be pirated because someone couldn’t possible ‘own’ that many CD’s? I assure you people do…

    And what about digital only releases where there is no physical CD? A photograph of your CD library to prove there is a hard copy is impossible…

    If we weren’t in July I would assume this story is an April fool. I just doesn’t seem logical, possible or sensible.

  4. Jet Jackson says:

    Wouldn’t that be pretty? They could take blood & urine samples, too while they’re at it (“Please arrive at the airport 24 hours in advance of your scheduled departure time in order to facilitate your complete degradation…”)

    We can only hope that it would kill the airlines within days (think of all the fuel we’d save)

  5. I’m speechless. Just…wow.

  6. Sebhelyesfarku says:

    “In all those movies where the government has a machine that monitors every phone call on the planet searching for terms like…”

    You’ve used those terms on your blog, you’re fucked.

  7. Phelix says:

    Another interesting question..

    How do different jurisdictions apply copyright?

    Will these countries have to respect the law of the passenger’s home? (eg if it was legal to burn a copy of a DVD you actually own and have this copy. Would carrying a “copy” that you already own count against you?)

    The custom officers will all have to be international copyright lawyers!

    So say you own an ebook of Peter Pan (which has a copyrigh dispute – how do you know which jurisdiction to follow.

    In the end, this may not happen – but the fear of a random check maybe enough to deter people downloading and then adding to their media player (whats worse is if you only have 1 computer – a laptop. You could conceivebly carry this everywhere. You probably then wouldnt download illegally then?)

    They would need a quicker process to scan your player/laptop.. I am guessing basically scanning the meta-data for anything “comments” that a uploader would add (eg “this was ripped by WAREZ CO” or something random quote)

  8. kathy burkett says:

    How about getting better service and lower airfairs. Total waste of time and money. How about better aircraft safety. Wow! wouldn’t that be something to place more importance on.
    Amazingly stupid!

  9. Hurmoth says:

    I guess I’m a little confused. People still fly?

    All joking aside, as long as you don’t have pirated media what’s the problem? What are people so worried about concerning this that they throw such a fuss and use “evasion privacy”? Don’t pirate and don’t worry. If you pirate media, you deserve to get caught, I certainly don’t feel sorry for you.

  10. Bob says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My music is ALL legitimate. Either I’ve bought non DRM from Amazon, or I’ve ripped CDs I own. The same goes for Videos (I rip DVDs I own). Again, there is no way to prove I own any of this.

    While scanning my PC, how do I know they are not illegally obtaining access to files they (the security folks) are not legally entitled to see (protected by Non-Disclosure)?

    This is insane.

  11. Mike says:

    Macenstein, you are turning your site into a tabloid by publishing junk like that. Anyone with any common sense would realize that such a policy would never see fruition even by today’s paranoid standards. As you stated, enforcement would be impossible.

  12. Shannon Shiflett says:

    Police state = Government that serves and protects corporations, not People.

  13. Marc says:

    “If we weren’t in July I would assume this story is an April fool.”

    I thought the same exact thing…

  14. ArtOfWarfare says:

    Now of course you have the issue that everyone in the world who owns an iPod or has music on their computer has pirated material.

    What can you do about a crime when everyone is guilty to some degree? People would rebell against the media industry and the government.

    We’ll go and sail towards the stars and discover new lands so that we can set up a country where we have the freedom to rip CDs and DVDs (and Bluerays eventually.)

  15. Max Hawkins says:

    Mike, Dr. Macenstein is just saying how stupid people are getting, trying to pass acts like this through.

  16. John says:

    I have heard about people coming back from Canada having their laptops searched. Customs holds the laptop till you give them passwords to decrypt all the files.

    I just googled “customs” “laptop” “password” and got over 63,000 hits. Legally when you enter the US (and most other countries) you do not have the same rights and protections (such as they are) as when you are in country.

    I no longer have to travel internationally. I think if I did I might just buy a small laptop for that purpose and keep it extremely clean. It would be too much of a chore to clean up my main laptop for travel. What about deleted files? Unless you securely delete every file there are all sorts of file fragments left behind.

    What about mistakes? One of the biggest problems with databases is errors. Suppose there is data on your hard drive which is innocuous but somehow looks suspicious to a forensic program? For this reason I’d rather start with a squeaky clean hard drive and carry as little as possible.

    An interesting idea has been to encrypt your data and put it on an SD card which is then hidden in your luggage. These are incredibly small and have quite large capacities. Unless they have a reason to micro-search your luggage these would never be noticed.

    Another interesting point is transiting. Suppose you fly Australia to the US with a stop in the UK. You never intend to leave the airport, yet now you might have your laptop searched in the UK and you could be in trouble for material that is objectionable to that inspector though it is innocuous in Australia and the US.

  17. CyberTeddy says:

    “If someone turns up with 20,000 songs are they deemed to be pirated because someone couldn’t possible ‘own’ that many CD’s?”

    everyone is guillty until you or they can prove the opposite…

  18. Ian says:

    You all may want to Google “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” or just wiki it. This agreement and it’s provisions will become the iron fist of the DMCA.

  19. imajoebob says:

    1) this just sounds like scare tactics by the RIAA, using bribed, er, sympathetic legislators to throw a little fear into travelers.

    2) I’m not sure TSA can do any more than make you start your computer to see if it is actually a computer, not something that would “inhibit” flying (I’m being intentionally obtuse for the paranoids amongst us). Though they are trying to get regulations passed that will allow them to do it. But that’s likely to expire in another 6 or so months.

    * and these “Captcha” words are impossible to decipher. It usually takes me three iterations to read both words at once.

  20. I'm Just Sayin says:

    I admire the naivety of people who believe something won’t happen if it isn’t enforceable.

    It goes to show that the record industry still have a lot of money to throw around, to buy this kind of influence.

    Realise also, that music must still be seen as the primary force for spreading US culture throughout the world, although movies must be catching up.

    Take this very seriously.

    And by the way, youtube videos on computer or iPod, would be a dead give-away

  21. Rowlings says:

    That is all kinds of fucked up.

  22. T says:

    so just to get this straight… it took the threat of questioning your mp3 and divx collection before you started to care about the police state?

    Sorry to sound harsh, but you deserve every inconvenience you get from here on out based on that crap you spouted at the beginning of the article.

  23. someone says:

    DID U just say that all that tech is used to actually catch terrorism? you really need to go do some reading, what a bunch of crap

  24. ilya says:

    > All joking aside, as long as you don’t have pirated media what’s the problem?

    Hurmoth: you are either INCREDIBLY naive or are getting paid by **AA

    Read the blog one more time. CAREFULLY.

    How will you prove that ANY media on your device is legit?
    By carrying a proof of purchase for every item?

  25. kerry says:

    I don’t know how….but i cannot believe that even G8, which is the world’s most powerful governments are exploring the idea of scanning music devices, cell phones, and computers for non-copyrighted material in airports.

  26. fred says:

    Sadly, people w/ boring lives like you are why folks with boring lives like me do have to worry about our privacy. Any action you make or words you say can, out of context, be construed to mean whatever the listener (watcher) wants.

    Its a sad day when everyone is willing to be considered guilty until they can be proven innocent! One day you will be just doing your thing and some one some where watching you on a CCTV will think you are doing something suspicious and wham, you’ll be spending the next 2 years proving you were just doing whtever.

  27. Imagine Engine says:

    Remember the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement when you next vote during an election. The ACTA basically pissed off a lot of Canadians for the current government ignoring public opinion on the subject and basically bending over to USA government pressure tactics and the RIAA. Citizens rights are slowly being dissolved and it’s important to see the big picture when stuff like this is allowed to pass. All it takes is one customs agent to claim you’re carrying pirated data on your Macbook or iPhone to have them take it away from you and then have you fighting the country legal system to get your property back and to drop any false charges. I really wonder how businesses feel about customs agents being able to view their sensitive data such as personal contacts and client information. What about dignitaries traveling from other countries having their personal data searched? Privacy laws are basically pushed aside with the ACTA. It’s almost like the ACTA is being used by the USA to excuse them wanting to snoop everyones data with out having to have a search warrant or reasonable grounds to do so.

  28. Ethan says:

    “You’ve used those terms on your blog, you’re fucked.”

    Just what I was thinking. Thank you Patriot Act.

    “If you pirate media, you deserve to get caught, I certainly don’t feel sorry for you.”

    The issue isn’t whether someone gets caught with their thousands of pirated songs and dozens of movies. The problems are things like different copyright and piracy laws throughout the various places you may travel through, and, even more, the conflict of those laws with the concept of fair-use. Also, how could it be proven that content on our devices has been obtained legally?

    As for fair-use, the DMCA is much too limiting, as it was written in a time when digital content and digital rights management was not well understood, IMO.

  29. Ian says:

    Imagine Engine
    I agree with your sentiments and most of your post however the ACTA is not the immediate issue in Canada. The wholesale adoption of the US DMCA as bill C-61 is. The gains made for the consumer that are being touted by the Peoples Government are all revoked in the fine print. The DRM is being extended to any form of digital lock including electronic devices i.e. cell phones or any software that can be used to impede a DRM.
    This piece of legislation was drafted with no public input and the ministers in question consulted only with the organisations directly involved (MPAA,RIAA, US gov etc.) So much for the servants of the people.
    The ACTA is being negotiated so quietly that most Canadian organizations are getting their info from other countries public inquires and it is still under the radar of most Canadians. Worst of all the ACTA is not legislation it is a trade agreement and therefore does not get voted on by the peoples representative… if there are any left.
    For more info on the Canadian fiasco see here

  30. Jordan says:

    MP3s would be hard to determine… Ripped DVDs would be easy though…

    Go back to the DMCA… the mere act of ripping a DVD defeats the copy protection on the disc. This, in and of itself, is a violation of the DMCA.

    If you admit “Yeah, I ripped a DVD I bought, so what?” That in and of itself is prosecutable under the DMCA. It doesn’t matter if you bought the DVD or not. Breaking the copy protection is a violation.

  31. Ethan says:

    “Sorry to sound harsh, but you deserve every inconvenience you get from here on out based on that crap you spouted at the beginning of the article.”

    So anyone who isn’t as paranoid as you and I until things actually get really bad deserves the invasions of privacy? Just because the average person’s indifference to the growing disregard for our rights is the very thing that permits that disregard, doesn’t mean that that person deserves to be walked on.

  32. Ethan says:

    “everyone is guillty until you or they can prove the opposite…”

    Hey, someone else noticed. It’s a wonderful new world we live in.

  33. prefabrik says:

    All it takes is one customs agent to claim you’re carrying pirated data on your Macbook or iPhone to have them take it away from you and then have you fighting the country legal system to get your property back and to drop any false charges.

  34. Sounds like an interesting job. 🙂

  35. me says:

    >I’m not really what you would call a privacy nut. […] I know I’m not planning to kill anyone…[…].

    Please, do us all a favor and watch this extremely enlightening video about your 5th amendment right not to incriminate yourself.

    Legalizing warrant-less spying is nothing short of curtailing that right. Once you’ve done that, please stop propagating one of the most uneducated and downright stupid things a civilized human can utter. You are playing into the hands of authoritarian conservatives. Understand that while that statement might appear inoffensive to you, it is of utmost relevance to the way our society works as opposed to say, a feudal monarchy…

  36. Thomas says:

    Austrailia, perhaps. The U.S.? No. The success to some good fear mongering is a gullible people (and the absence of no confirming source is the cherry on top), and I have no doubt that you’ll find plenty of rubes who have no idea how the U.S. legislative process works and even less who know the Constitution. There is a little thing called the 4th amendment that would prevent this.

  37. corner says:

    Looks like a good job!!
    Cool site of wholesale watches:

  38. me says:

    This is bull shit. Anyway, what would they do with my linux laptop with command line and a dvorak keyboard layout? Are they trained in that sort of thing? 😛 I would like to see some stats on how many people they actually catch with pirated media on their portable media devices.
    Also, since when is it that the airport is in charge of controlling pirating? Is it an international threat?

  39. Jaikob says:

    Well, I guess truecrypt is my new best friend.

  40. Paul says:

    I can’t really see this going through without a lot of uproar from people. So many people out there download music illegaly that if they start sinking to this level, it won’t go over well.

    Plus the amount of time it might take to hunt through over a hundred mp3 players/laptops will take so long that people will be furious. Airlines are doing bad enough already, they don’t want to do worse.

  41. dees says:

    micro sd card for games n’ music

  42. kamikaze.cockroach says:

    Sounds like a great opportunity for an encrypted music player.
    Here’s what it should do (from Truecrypt’s hidden OS feature)

    – Boot to a passphrase entry dialog.
    – Upon entering the decoy password, unlock the decoy area with a few legal tracks. If asked why you need a password for legal tracks, tell them it’s like a phone unlock code; you just don’t want anyone using your stuff.
    – Upon entering your real passhprase it unlocks the hidden area with all your other tracks.


  43. Mark D says:

    They’re going to have a hard time enforcing such measures.

    Think about them having to plug everyone’s media player into some sort of database. This database would have to have EVERY SINGLE SONG ever converted into a digital format to test against. It wouldn’t matter if you got it from an online vendor, ripped it from a CD or downloaded it from another source. How would they know if any of these songs are illegal to download in the first place?

    Take the Radiohead album for example. Say you had that in digital format along side the rest of their albums that were released before the “name your price” fee of In Rainbows. It seems just impossible to me for them to be able to keep track of every single possible artist that does that.

    And to agree with Paul, I don’t think that the airlines are looking to piss off customers more than they have been recently. All they need to do now is to jump in bed with the RIAA and MPAA to make me want to take a boat across the Atlantic the next time I want to come to Europe.

  44. chris says:

    Well i think privacy is a big issue…and everyone has a right to it…and using technology to look into ppls lives is ridiculous…so going through ppls txts or phone calls to make sure they are a terrorist is over the line…because now you have to prove your innocent by who you do and do not talk to…

    but as for the going through ppls laptops and ipods, that is really over stepping the boundary….

    but thats whats happens when ppl become willing to give up their rights for safety….is that it no longer becomes about safety but control over the ppl

    “Those who are can give up essential liberty to obtain temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”
    Benjamin Franklin

  45. Al Kyder says:

    This is a trial Balloon to see what peeps will say, They are nt serious

  46. cunt fuck me amy says:

    To the dirty, filthy cunts of this world. You better fuck my cunt and die. You fucking lemming let these filthy-rich, cunt sucking, leach, money-hungry, power tripping fucks search your little bullshit hand bag (that is conviently the same size or smaller then an A4 sheet of paper) for shop lifted goods from Big W. All done without thinking twice about it. There isn’t a search warrant for this. It’s just a given. So, of course why would you put up a stink if some filthy customs cunt wants to invade your privacy at the airport. If they invade your privacy at IGA and you let them get away with it. They will invade your privacy at the airport…and get away with it.

Leave A Comment


Click here to inquire about making a fortune by advertising your game, gadget, or site on Macenstein.