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06/05/2013

Would US hack PCs and start trade wars to protect its copyright?

Are you stealing copyrighted content through online filesharing networks? How you fancy having your PC hacked deliberately by the copyright owners? If policymakers in the US get their way, it could be on the cards.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 2.44.18 PMThe IP Commission, created last year to explore theft of American intellectual property, is headed by several bigwigs, including former admirals, state governors, ambassadors, and CEOs. It set out to understand how IP is being stolen from US companies, and what impact it has, while also recommending policy solutions to Congress.

We're not sure anyone expected proposals quite like these, though. Buried at the end of the Commission's report [PDF}, after ponderous discussions about legal reform, engaging overseas governments, and the development of technology to spot hackers, was this gem.

"There are increasing calls for creating a more permissive environment for active network defence that allows companies not only to stabilize the situation but to take further steps, including actively retrieving stolen information, alter and it within the intruders networks, or even destroying the information within an unauthorised network."

Other measures could include photographing a hacker using their own system's camera, infecting their network with malware, or even destroying their computer.

Now, there are caveats here. Firstly, these recommendations are likely to focus more on targeted hackers stealing company documents, then they are on Billy Bob downloading the latest episode of Breaking Bad. And although it highlights these recommendations from the community, the report also recommends not revising laws to permit such aggressive activities. The danger is that striking back against copyright thieves could create collateral damage on the Internet, as innocent computers are compromised or damaged. Think of it as a digital drive-by shooting.

On the other hand, the fact that these recommendations are being raised at all is indicative of a growing aggression in policymaker sentiment towards people that they don't like online. If such recommendations were ever to be seriously considered, it would set a worrying precedent. And the commission has indeed left the door open. "In the future, if the loss of IP continues at current levels, these measures will to be considered," it said. And who's to say that organisations wouldn't take a poorly-crafted law and use it to virus your machine? In fact, some might argue that it has already happened.

Oh, and for good measure, the report also suggested that in the future, the US might cut off funding to the World Health Organisation until it started assessing the level of IP protection in different countries. It also suggested that the US partner with other countries to persuade them to do the same. The World Health Organisation, people. The one that focuses on public health, and stopping kids from getting sick. The same one that has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the Chinese steal fight jet plans, or whether that copy of Jay-Z's album on your iPod was paid for or not.

China wouldn't be on its list of the Commission's buddies, either. It recommended that in the future, Congress may consider starting a trade war with China by imposing a tariff on all imports to cover all losses from Chinese IP theft – plus another 50%, just for its trouble.

Starting trade wars? Hacking IP thieves? Just how hardball do you think the US should play when protecting copyrighted material?

Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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