International travellers face having their laptop computers, mobile phones, iPods and USB memory sticks scanned and copied at will by customs officials under a proposed global anti-counterfeiting trade deal.
Japan and the US are pushing for the so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to be finalised by the end of the year.
Participants have kept details of the agreement secret but details have emerged in leaked documents and consultation papers published by an the Australian Digital Alliance, an association of ISPs, librrians and others.
A submission by ADA to the Australian government revealed proposals to extend customs' powers to search, seize and destroy material that infringed copyright and the facilities used to produce the copies. Other proposals were to criminalise infringements and to open infringers to higher fines and claims for damages.
"One of the worst case scenarios was this idea that you might be able to search someone's laptop or iPod for infringing content at the border or at the airport", Laura Simes, executive director of ADA, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last week.
Malcolm Hutty, spokesman for the London Internet Exchange, an association of internet service providers (ISPs), who saw the early proposals, said that companies and individuals could have their security and privacy breached if proposed search powers allowed border authorities to read, copy and retain files.
He criticised another proposal to make ISPs do "deep packet inspection" to determine the content of internet traffic.
"We do not want mandated technological blocks such as deep packet inspection and filtering that would inhibit the internet community's capacity and openness to technological innovation," he said.
Negotiators from the US, Japan, the European Union, Australia, Canada, Mexico and other countries last met in Washington in late July.
"All the parties negotiating here are kind of sworn to secrecy," Simes said.
A document, dated 29 July, the day the conference began, was leaked to the whistleblower website Wikileaks. It recommended letting customs authorities suspend the import, export and trans-shipment of goods suspected of being pirated, without a court order. They want to increase "significantly" warrantless inspections to find counterfeit or pirated goods,
An EU statement after the meeting said participants discussed civil remedies for intellectual property rights (IPRs) infringements, the availability of preliminary measures, preservation of evidence, damages, legal fees and costs. They agreed to continue talks on border enforcement of IPRs.
Adam Morallee, a solicitor at law firm Mishcon de Reya, who often acts for brand owners, said rights holders were entitled to protect their rights and their assets.
The EU said it is negotiating to protect citizens against health and safety risks from counterfeit drugs and food, as well as to protect holders of intellectual property rights in music, film and video recordings as well as software.