Spy software is coming your way

Stuff

Software capable of powerful and intrusive searches of personal computers is to be used in New Zealand.

The spy software, which can trace Google searches and other download attempts back to the computer they came from, is a new tool used by movie companies to combat piracy but it is upsetting privacy watchdogs and Internet companies.

The New Zealand Federation Against Copyright Theft (NZfact), the international Motion Picture Association’s representative here, will use the software to identify pirates by their IP address – a computer’s unique identity, the Weekend Herald reported today. The association is a consortium of major movie studios.

The software can track the IP address to the Internet company which holds the user’s details. The Internet company could then agree – or be compelled – to give those details to NZfact.

Federation executive director Tony Eaton said the pirate-hunting software was “basically a search engine that searches the search engines”.

The programme was used in a recent trial in New Zealand, discovering 1153 attempts to illegally download the children’s movie Chicken Little.

Action against pirates could begin with a “cease and desist” letter. In more serious cases, Mr Eaton said, the police could be informed, a search warrant executed, the computer seized and the user prosecuted under the Copyright Act.

Mr Eaton was seeking the co-operation of Internet companies in giving the details behind the IP addresses but ihug and Orcon have said they would not give up the information without a court warrant.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said computer users could ask her to investigate as the software intruded into their personal space. But it was unclear if the software breached existing law because an IP address identified a computer that could be used by more than one person.

The move comes after John Houston was this week jailed for two years after admitting to 21 charges relating to pirating movies.

He is believed to have made $150,000 a year from selling pirated movies.

Judge David Harvey described it as a highly sophisticated operation in which Houston used decrypting programmes to get around encryption codes on compact discs aimed at stopping movies being copied.

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