September 24, 2013
Earlier this month, the City of London police department launched a special unit dedicated to enforcing intellectual property rights. The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has made its first arrests, and the unit is likely a sign of things to come as the fight to enforce intellectual property rights becomes more aggressive.
Government authorities in Britain estimate that the economic damage caused by intellectual property theft is in the billions of dollars. In response to that significant economic impact, law enforcement authorities in the United Kingdom are dedicating more resources toward intellectual property rights enforcement.
In its opening days of operation, the PIPCU made its first arrests. Two men in Birmingham were arrested for possession of thousands of counterfeit DVDs.
The PIPCU enforces criminal law sanctions that are applied to misuse of intellectual property. The bulk of its actions are focused on counterfeit DVDs and CDs, as well as illegal downloads of digital materials.
The PIPCU is an example of an increasingly popular trend involving law enforcement authorities in a variety of nations around the world. The growing economic impact of intellectual property misuse is leading many different governments to devote greater resources to the enforcement of criminal law sanctions against intellectual property theft.
Numerous law enforcement groups are now operating units similar to the PIPCU. These specialized law enforcement organizations are dedicated to the effort to enforce intellectual property rights.
In addition to intellectual property rights enforcement units, law enforcement organizations in many jurisdictions also operate specialized computer crimes units. Allocation of law enforcement resources specifically for actions involving intellectual property, computer misuse, and data theft is an indication of the rapidly expanding economic, social, and political impact of these digital crimes.
Although there is clear value in dedicating law enforcement resources to the prevention of digital crimes, those enforcement efforts must always be conducted within the framework of the legal constraints that are intended to protect civil liberties. Recent revelations regarding apparent widespread abuse of electronic surveillance capabilities by governments alert us to the need to ensure effective oversight of the digital activities conducted by authorities in the name of law enforcement and national security.
Active law enforcement in the digital environment is necessary and proper. All such activities, however, must be conducted consistent with the legal rights of individuals and subject to effective public oversight. Actions taken against digital crimes must be transparent and constrained by the same fundamental civil liberties that are applied to all other law enforcement activities.