Next time you’re downloading a film or music through the internet, spare a thought for Australian resident Hew Griffiths, 44 years old, unemployed and now languishing in a jail half a world away from his home. Unlike most of the other inmates, he’s not there for doing drugs, theft or assault. Rather, his crime was to belong to a group that cracked security codes of some of the United States’ biggest media moguls, getting free access to software and games. And while Australian authorities did not charge him, they nevertheless complied with a US request to extradite him to stand trial for crimes against ‘intellectual property’.
In June this year Hew was judged by a Virginian court and sentenced to more than four years in jail; shunted into a cell meant for two men in which three are actually forced to sleep. But Hew is only the first person caught up in a disturbing new trend. Following in the traditions established at Guantánamo Bay, the US is putting the world on notice that borders will not limit their prosecution and punishment of copyright crimes. For as US Attorney General John Ashcroft explained in 2004 – with copyright industries contributing more to US economy than the entire Gross Domestic Product of countries like Argentina, the Netherlands and Taiwan – his administration cannot afford to do otherwise.
As for British-born Hew, there’s an additional punishment that hangs over his head. Although he had lived in Australia since he was 7 years old, the Australian Government says that his permanent resident status lapsed when they sent him to the States. He may never be able to get back into the country where he has grown up and where his family – including a sick father – live.
Want to hear more? Tune in to Radio New Internationalist’s Cyber Crimes programme – www.newint.org/radio