IPods, mobile phones and laptops could be examined by airport customs officials for illegal downloads under strict new counterfeiting measures being considered by G8 governments this week, it is claimed.
The measures form part of an international agreement aimed at stamping out piracy, but there are fears that individuals who have illegally downloaded songs or video clips on to MP3 players and phones for personal use could also be caught out.
They coincide with plans by the European Parliament for Internet Service Providers to be held liable if their users download illegal content, and in extreme cases, forced to disconnect people who are doing so.
Illegal downloading and piracy represents the biggest single problem faced by the music, film and publishing industries, and many have been lobbying governments to introduce tough new rules to help stamp out the practice.
Earlier this month, Virgin Media resorting to writing to customers warning them that their internet services would be terminated if they persisted in file sharing. So far, little has been revealed about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement being considered by the G8 nations, apart from a mention in the organisation's "Declaration on the World Economy" published this week.
Backing the development of the new agreement, it said: "Effective promotion and protection of Intellectual Property Rights are critical to the development of creative products, technologies and economies."
A leak to a technology website revealed that the focus of Acta was "border measures, particularly how to deal with large-scale intellectual property infringements, which can frequently involve criminal elements".
However, a footnote saying that those signing up to Acta should put in place "provisions related to criminal enforcement and border measures to be applied at least in cases of trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy", has generated intense speculation about what it could mean for the individual.
Recent research by the British Music Rights group found that the average teenager and student has 800 illegal downloads on their MP3 player. The suggestion that the new laws could be used by customs to scan MP3 players, mobiles and laptops for illegal downloads is just one of a number of potential measures that is causing concern in the technology world, leading to fevered debate about the implications on a number of websites.
Another is that mobile phone companies could contact their customers to warn them off sharing video clips. However, a source representing record labels said the practice of checking iPods and phones was unworkable.
"It is more likely to be about customs having the powers to intercept large shipments of raw materials and vast packages of MP3s with prerecorded content," he said.