DHS Enforces Copyright

Why is the Department of Homeland Security involved in copyright issues?

Agents shut down a popular Web site that allegedly had been distributing copyrighted music and movies, including versions of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Homeland Security agents from several divisions served search warrants on 10 people around the country suspected of being involved with the Elite Torrents site, and took over the group's main server.

Shouldn't they be spending their resources on matters of national security instead of worrying about who is downloading the new Star Wars movie? Here's the DHS's mission statement, in case anyone is unsure what they're supposed to be doing.

We will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the nation. We will ensure safe and secure borders, welcome lawful immigrants and visitors, and promote the free-flow of commerce.

I simply don't believe that running down file sharers counts under "promote the free-flow of commerce." That's more along the lines of checking incoming shipping for smuggled nuclear bombs without shutting down our seaports.

Edited to add: Steve Wildstrom of Business Week left this comment, which seems to explain matters:

The DHS involvement turns out to be not the least bit mysterious. DHS is a sprawling agglomeration of agencies and the actual unit involved was Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a/k/a the Customs Service. Its involvement arose because the pirated copy of Star Wars apparently originated outside the U.S. and Customs is routinely involved in the interception and seizure of material entering the U.S. in violation of copyright or trademark laws. In Washington, for example, Customs agents regularly bust street vendors selling T-shirts with unlicensed Disney characters and other trademarked and copyright stuff.

The Secret Service's role in computer crime enforcement arose from its anti-counterfeiting activities which extended to electronic crimes against financial institutions and cyber-crime in general. But they aren't very good at it (anyone remember the Steve Jackson Games fiasco?) and the functions would probably best be turned over to another agency.

Posted on June 1, 2005 at 2:31 PM • 36 Comments

Comments

elambJune 1, 2005 3:01 PM

Hi Bruce.. you look familiar... Oh.. you're going to speak at the IT Security Summit, cool.

Anyway, it seems to me that the DHS Mission Statement does cover their action of shutting down the Bittorrent (promote the free flow of commerce).

But you're right, there supposed to be tracking down suit case sized WMD's or something not hunting down geeks that live with their moms'. WTF.

See you at Defcon.

Justin MasonJune 1, 2005 3:08 PM

I think this may be related to the DHS' nature as an all-encompassing octopus -- they assimilated border control and customs, and this kind of copyright-infringement enforcement apparently has something to do with customs.

KyleJune 1, 2005 3:09 PM

This seems to be within the realm of the FBI rather than the DHS.

"We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the nation."

I guess stealing the Star Wars movie is quite a threat...

AnonymousJune 1, 2005 3:10 PM

Yes, it sure makes me feel safer that the DHS is acting as the personal army for the RIAA & the MPAA.

Bruce SchneierJune 1, 2005 3:20 PM

"Yes, it sure makes me feel safer that the DHS is acting as the personal army for the RIAA & the MPAA."

If Star Wars is available on BitTorrent, then the Sith win.

TomJune 1, 2005 3:34 PM

Presumably terrorist organizations use sales of pirated videos to fund "ventures", and by agressively working to shut down pirate video sales DHS will also be taking funds away from these groups. The key word is "presumably". I have no proof, but only offer conjecture. And just think of all the steganographic jpeg images that pass back and forth between these folks while they are using BitTorrent. My goodness. No wonder DHS is all over this. I feel much, much safer now.

Derek RubrightJune 1, 2005 3:36 PM

The only reason I could think of that the DHS would have *any* jurisdiction would be the thought that the movie could be bootlegged onto a DVD, and then sold in foreign countries, and profiting terrorists groups. There was an article on ZDNet recently stating that counterfeit DVD sales have ties to terrorism. *shrug*

ArikJune 1, 2005 3:40 PM

Well, one can argue that having SWIII illegaly is hurting the US economy (content is one of the major exports for the US), and a wealthy US is a strong US.

OTOH, everything can be explained away with a slight of the tongue.

-- Arik

ProbitasJune 1, 2005 3:42 PM

So let's see now. One of the contributing factors to what unfolded on 9/11 was the lack of a cohesive national security agency, coordinating our intelligence gathering and interpretation. So we created one, and charged it with protecting Americans from terrorists.

This particular investigation only falls within their realm if one assumes that the terrorists are now selling pirated DVDs to finance their operations.

Chung LeongJune 1, 2005 4:01 PM

Perhaps the Secret Service should stop investigating counterfeit producers as well?

Robin 'Roblimo' MillerJune 1, 2005 4:02 PM

I think it's great to know that anyone who steals or shares copies of my 'Point & Click Linux' book or the accompanying videos will have the full might of the U.S. government's most aggressive law enforcement agency descend upon them.

You don't think they'd do that for me? Only for politically-powerful lobbying groups like the RIAA and MPAA?

Then you have no faith in our government! It is fair and balanced in every way. I know this because they said so on Fox News. Phht!

Bruce SchneierJune 1, 2005 4:07 PM

"Perhaps the Secret Service should stop investigating counterfeit producers as well?"

Perhaps, but I think that's traditionally their mission. Moving it to the FBI certainly makes more sense, but I'll bet the turf battles will trump sense.

AnonymousJune 1, 2005 4:29 PM

Bruce, I'm curious why you used the term "file sharers" in your initial post rather than "copyright infringers".

First off, the sharing of files is not inherently illegal. But the infringing of copyright s is. Thus your statement implies that DHS is "running down" alleged non-criminals in addition to alleged criminals.

Second, your choice of terminology encompasses a political view. People who use the term "file sharing" to cover cases where another's copyright is being infringed upon do so to make it sound innocuos and unworthy of legal attention or penalty. It's a phrase with a political point of view. Do you subscribe to this view?

FredJune 1, 2005 4:34 PM

The DHS could take over protecting the president too. Maybe then someone would have some interest in them doing their job right.

Uhh Mr. President, you have to take your shoes off before we let you into the White House.

NathanJune 1, 2005 4:42 PM

Maybe Bruce used the term "file sharers" to balance the frequent wild eyed use of "thieves" "stealing" and "piracy".

Bruce SchneierJune 1, 2005 4:46 PM

"Bruce, I'm curious why you used the term 'file sharers' in your initial post rather than 'copyright infringers.'"

It's more descriptive. The DHS is not going after copyright infringers in general, they're going after people who are passing around copies of the new Star Wars movie.

Steve WildstromJune 1, 2005 4:59 PM

The DHS involvement turns out to be not the least bit mysterious. DHS is a sprawling agglormeration of agencies and the actual unit involved was Immigration and Customs Enforcement, f/k/a the Customs Service. It's ivolvement arose because the pirated copy of Star Wars apparently originated outside the U.S. and Customs is routinely involved in the interception and seizure of material entering the U.S. in violvation of copyright or trademark laws. In Washington, for example, Csutoms agents regularly bust street vendors selling T-shirts with ubnlicensed disney characters and other trademarked and copyright stuff.

The Secret Service's role in computer crime enforcement arose from its anti-counterfeiting activities which extended to electrronic crimes against fianncial institutions and cyber-crime in general. But they aren't very good at it (anyone remember the Steve Jackson Games fiasco?) and the functions would proabably best be turned over to another agency.

Jack KrupanskyJune 1, 2005 5:13 PM

Yeah, the only "Homeland Security" angle was the fact that the ICE guys (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is now part of DHS) were involved with the FBI.

Sorry guys, but there is no big conspiracy or even mini-mystery here.

But, I would blast the CNET writer for sloppily and misleadingly writing "Homeland Security" when it was a combination of FBI and ICE.

-- Jack Krupansky

BradJune 1, 2005 5:38 PM

Yeah - and they are in trouble, because seedless torrents and new peer-to-peer software is going to make downloads like this all but untraceable. The movie industry and others need to find out how to react to the market, rather than working by intimidation!

Israel TorresJune 1, 2005 6:01 PM

"Shouldn't they be spending their resources on matters of national security instead of worrying about who is downloading the new Star Wars movie?"

Unless of course "terrorists" are funding their cells with profits from the new Star Wars movie... Sure you can find downloads for free, but there are a lot of people buying these movies on the cheap on the streets - Someone is selling them, and someone is making a profit - tax-free at that. Maybe they are trying to find out:
1. where the money is going.
2. how to tax these people.
3. stop it if they can't tax it.
4. influence more money from interested parties that want this behavior stopped.

The focus always seems to be on the non-obvious. If the focus was on the obvious we wouldn't have people starving in the streets or loaded with drugs and selling their babies for crack.

Israel Torres


StenJune 1, 2005 6:36 PM

"welcome lawful immigrants and visitors"

They are not doing a very good job with that one either. Getting treated like a criminal at the airport is something that makes me want to stay home in Europe for my vacation.

AlfJune 1, 2005 7:16 PM

They just don't want anyone to see the alternate ending where Darth Cheney is exposed for running a fake war in order to strip people's liberties...

mjkJune 1, 2005 7:33 PM

Some officer dude in the army i talked to said that stopping the flow of money to terrorist organizations did more than all the bullets and guns and arrests combined. It crippled them. So if that is correct, and I trust my army dude, I would assume stopping copyrighted file-sharing that has financial profits for terrorists a very good thing for DHS to do. The question is did elitetorrents benefit terrorists?

Ari HeikkinenJune 1, 2005 7:51 PM

Maybe DHS is simply bored (nothing to do, nothing to raid) with too much cash and nothing to spend it on? Or maybe Bush was just watching the movie with Lucas and heard that kids are downloading it from the net for free. So he probably figured its easier to raid those kids than those terrorists and sent DHS on a new mission..

Ari HeikkinenJune 1, 2005 8:17 PM

I get it! They fear terrorists fetch and watch the movie and get new ideas from it for attacks against US! They fear terrorists are gonna build a new deathstar and then use it as VMD against homeland! I'm scared! Duct tape and plastic sheets everyone and duck and cover!

xJune 1, 2005 9:16 PM

I believe that the FBI, who really did the legwork on this case, falls under the DHS umbrella. That's why the references to DHS are valid here. All FBI agents work for the DHS.

davidJune 1, 2005 9:33 PM

Sorry X, the FBI is still within the Department of Justice, and not Homeland Security.

AnonymousJune 1, 2005 10:49 PM

To: Tom & Derek ,

I thought most terrorist organisations got their funding from the usa in the 80s...............

CaseJune 1, 2005 10:51 PM

DHS Agent-In-Charge: "Elite Torrents? We thought Star Wars was being copied by elite terrorists. What's the difference anyway?"

SeanJune 2, 2005 12:22 PM

"I think it's great to know that anyone who steals or shares copies of my 'Point & Click Linux' book or the accompanying videos will have the full might of the U.S. government's most aggressive law enforcement agency descend upon them.

You don't think they'd do that for me? Only for politically-powerful lobbying groups like the RIAA and MPAA? "

You left out the Association of American Publishers(AAP). Your book is published by a member of the AAP, so yes they will do that for you. Give it time.

Ari HeikkinenJune 2, 2005 2:12 PM

I don't think this deserves a serious comment even with the added clarification.

elambJune 2, 2005 7:58 PM

It seems phenomenally stupid that they would be tasked to hunt down pirates. But when you think about it the DHS actually consumed over 10 other massive agencies that still have duties to preform. Perhaps during the initial design of the DHS more focus should have been put on agressively hunting down terrorists and keeping out people entering the country illegally. It threat level Yellow, Elevated which is a "Signifigant Risk of Terroist Attack" copyright infringement should be the least of our conscerns.

scoobydontJune 3, 2005 2:34 PM

BitTorrent piracy should actually eat into the sales of the supposed terrorists that would profit from selling pirated copies.

So the DHS should be hosting trackers, not shutting them down :P

another_bruceJune 5, 2005 1:12 PM

here in oregon the DHS went after a TOY STORE that was supposedly selling unauthorized toys; the toy store lady turned out to be right but she still got to meet some jackbooted stormtroopers. we're governed by a corporate oligarchy posing as a republic. the organs of public law enforcement exist to serve IT (just as they once served the church long ago), not YOU. when you see "to protect and to serve" on the side of a police car, you didn't think it meant to protect and to serve YOU did you, GEEZ LOUISE!

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