Officials of the Eurostar train service have started carrying out regular pornography checks on passengers? laptops.
A Paris based journalist recently had the hard drive of his computer scanned at Waterloo station in London, by Customs and Excise officers who are part of an Internet pornography crackdown.
This is now a common activity, he was told, and ?some? paedophiles have been caught this way.
According to a Customs spokesperson, seizures are a regular occurrence although ?we don't do things randomly. We work on intelligence received,? she claimed. ?Looking for paedophilia is a top priority."
She would not give any details on how porn stored on the hard disk is detected, but it is probable that the disk is scanned to check the proportion of image files to text files, which can then be compared against norms. If the result shows a high proportion of images, more detailed searching can take place on a file by file basis.
Travellers need not be concerned about the privacy of business or personal documents, the spokeswoman said, because the service "has a duty of confidentiality. The information goes no further?.
But since the definition of pornography is a matter of legal interpretation, any laptop found with borderline obscene material could be detained pending a legal opinion.
Where there is a long term major investigation, the National Investigation Service of the Customs and Excise may be involved, although most of their work is concerned with the detection of drugs, illegal arms and bomb making equipment.
The journalist, Ken Cukier, was philosophical about his experience, but was concerned at the technical inexperience of Customs and Excise: "Not only did they not have a clue what the Internet is, they confirmed their ignorance by not even being able to digitally pat me down," he said (the scanner would not work on an Apple computer).
When asked by Cukier if she could check encrypted files, the inspector at Waterloo admitted she did not know what cryptography was.
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