OTTAWA - The federal government is secretly negotiating an agreement to revamp international copyright laws which could make the information on Canadian iPods, laptop computers or other personal electronic devices illegal and greatly increase the difficulty of travelling with such devices.
The deal could also impose strict regulations on Internet service providers, forcing those companies to hand over customer information without a court order.
Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the new plan would see Canada join other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, to form an international coalition against copyright infringement.
The agreement is being structured much like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) except it will create rules and regulations regarding private copying and copyright laws.
Federal trade agreements do not require parliamentary approval.
The deal would create a international regulator that could turn border guards and other public security personnel into copyright police. The security officials would be charged with checking laptops, iPods and even cellular phones for content that "infringes" on copyright laws, such as ripped CDs and movies.
The guards would also be responsible for determining what is infringing content and what is not.
The agreement proposes any content that may have been copied from a DVD or digital video recorder would be open for scrutiny by officials - even if the content was copied legally.
"If Hollywood could order intellectual property laws for Christmas what would they look like? This is pretty close," said David Fewer, staff counsel at the University of Ottawa's Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. "The process on ACTA so far has been cloak and dagger. This certainly raises concerns."
The leaked ACTA document states officials should be given the "authority to take action against infringers (i.e., authority to act without complaint by rights holders)."
Anyone found with infringing content in their possession would be open to a fine.
They may also have their device confiscated or destroyed, according to the four-page document.
The trade agreement includes "civil enforcement" measures which give security personnel the "authority to order ex parte searches" (without a lawyer present) "and other preliminary measures".
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