Under the TPP trade agreement, the devices of White Hat Hackers could be seized or destroyed
Digital tinkerers such as farmers fixing their high-tech tractors, or car hackers, or teenage DVD rippers all over the world could have their devices taken away forcibly and destroyed by the authorities; thanks to provisions in the newly-minted Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multinational trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement. Among other things, the TPP seeks to adjust trade barriers such as tariffs, establish a common framework for intellectual property, enforce standards for labour law and environmental law, and establish an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which proposes that local states be responsible for falling rates of profit.
Wikileaks on Friday leaked the finalized copyright chapter of the TPP, which disclosed that under the agreement, “judicial authorities shall, at least, have the authority to […] order the destruction of devices and products found to be involved in” any activity that avoids controls that manufacturers build into their software or devices, known as Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology.
“As a result,” Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote to a staff writer of Motherboard in an email, “those who are tinkering with their own legally-purchased digital products will be at risk not only of financial penalties, but also having their equipment seized and perhaps destroyed.”
Vivek Krishnamurthy, a cyberlaw instructor at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard told the Motherboard writer that if you use your laptop to rip a DVD movie, your computer could be seized or even destroyed by the authorities. He said that more importantly security researchers or experts who hack cars and other consumer goods to ensure that hardware and software is safe could be stopped from doing their jobs.
“The TPP is going to prohibit people from checking these devices to see if they work as advertised”
The “internet of things,” a theoretical future where every device is networked via the Internet due to this could be left in a state of chronic device ecosystem insecurity, added Krishnamurthy.
“What we’re seeing now is that every country in the TPP is going to, in the first instance, prohibit people from checking these devices to see if they work as advertised: if they’re safe, if they’re effective, etcetera,” Krishnamurthy told the Motherboard writer. “They’re going to go have to get permission from someone to do that research.”
In order to allow civil courts to seize and destroy services, the TPP would force Canada to change its laws, Krishnamurthy said. The devices that are involved in infringing copyright in Canada may be seized by the authorities if a criminal charge is involved. However, for civil proceedings no such clause exists.
Some exceptions may be included by the TPP countries to this rule for hacking and tinkering that circumvents DRM states the leaked chapter, but doesn’t violate copyright law. While these exceptions are not compulsory, but the recommended punishment of taking and destroying your devices is.
A TPP chapter draft that was leaked in 2014 by Wikileaks revealed the device-destroying provision. The Chilean negotiators tried to soften the provision with language like, “at their discretion” in that draft. However, only the firm proclamation, and a full carve-out for Chile in the form of an option to act in accordance with a previous agreement with the US appeared in the final draft and none of their proposals appeared.
Even though the TPP is finalized, it’s important to note that it has not yet been given formal consent by the governments of the countries that signed it. It’s likely that governments could still push back; however, the world will have laws that say authorities can break tinkerers’ crap unless that happens.