Over the last decade the FBI has been involved in numerous file-sharing related investigations, mainly in respect of large scale copyright infringement.
In 2005 the FBI shuttered EliteTorrents, a popular ‘private’ BitTorrent community that came to a sticky end after making available a pre-release ‘workprint’ copy of Star Wars Episode III. By 2010 the agency was focusing its resources on Operation in Our Sites, an initiative which closed down several domains including the notorious NinjaVideo. Then two years ago the FBI played a key role in the closure of Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload.
While few would doubt the gravity of the cases highlighted above, it may come as a surprise that in addition to commercial scale infringement, the FBI also views unauthorized personal copying as a serious offense. While it may not actively pursue individual pirates, it doesn’t want them in-house.
Monday this week Sacramento State‘s Career Center welcomed the FBI for a visit concerning recruitment of students for its paid internship program. One of the topics discussed were historical actions that could exclude applicants from the program.
In addition to drug use, criminal activity and even defaulting on a student loan, students were informed that if they had illegally downloaded content in the past, that could rule them out of a position at the FBI. It appears that to the agency, downloading is tantamount to stealing.
While some students might be tempted to tell a white lie or two about their piracy experiences during their initial interviews, that appears to be a dangerous course of action. All responses are recorded and sent to a polygraph technician and if the student fails the lie detector test they are excluded from the FBI forever, even if they tried to cover up the smallest thing.
But what if applicants have a bit of personal piracy to hide, but choose to tell the truth? Information is limited, but a 2012 posting on 911JobForums by a rejected applicant reveals that while honesty might be the best policy, it can be enough to rule someone out of a job.
“My reason for posting this is to help give fair warning to those who don’t think pirating copyrighted information from the internet will trip them up later on. While I sometimes ask myself what might have been, I can honestly say I gave it my best shot,” the poster explains.
“I had downloaded songs while at college 10 years prior (300+) and a few recently (<20). I had an illegal copy of Windows XP in my possession and 10 years ago had watched fewer than 8 pirated full-length movies which I had downloaded then promptly deleted. I had copied a Redbox DVD to my iPod I wasn't able to watch before returning but then promptly deleted the movie after watching once." According to the student-run newspaper The State Hornet, the FBI are interested in the amount of illegal content applicants have downloaded, so it’s possible that people downloading very small amounts might be shown leniency.
Those interested in how the polygraph procedure itself works can find details of the equivalent CIA test here. Interestingly the writer has a tip for former pirate students.
“[The CIA] were concerned mostly about crime, drugs, and misuse of technology systems. Downloading music, though it is illegal, does not disqualify you. Most people especially college students did this, just pretend you didn’t know that it was illegal,” he notes.