This is one of the most frightening things I've learned in a long time. Over in the US, a bill has passed the House of Representatives and is heading to Congress – with a huge amount of support.
The PRO-IP bill, H.R.4279, significantly increases the state's power to detect and prosecute IP infringement, carrying with it a whole host of new law enforcement positions and capabilities. It establishes an IP Czar, someone with the job of overseeing zealous action on behalf of copyright and trademark owners, and includes such powers as the ability to seize equipment if it contains just one file thought to infringe.
Importing and exporting infringing material will attract harsh penalties, and there's a $30,000 per-track fine on music (so that's half a million dollars for an album), The list goes on, and I thoroughly recommend you go out and Google to educate yourself on the many quite overwhelming powers the US government wants to give itself in its apparent determination to put file sharing on a par with drug dealing, gangsterism and other great crimes against society.
Thank goodness we're not in America? That hardly helps. Among the many provisions is the establishment of "five additional Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordinators in foreign countries to protect the intellectual property rights of U.S. citizens [...] increase DOJ training and assistance to foreign governments to combat counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property." -- and if you think their job is just to lead the rest of the world in the way of American righteousness, think again.
Transferring a file between the US and the UK, however you do it, will most certainly count as importing or exporting: that will include BitTorrent, web hosting, FTP, Usenet and all those popular ways of moving stuff around the Internet without worrying about who's doing it or where they are. Even if you're scrupulous in avoiding the obvious areas of naughtiness, I doubt very much you know how much of the stuff you've browsed today was hosted in the US, let alone how legal or illegal it strictly was. And if you're a torrent fan, well, good luck to you.
As a UK citizen, you no longer have any effective defence against a US demand for deportation. Under the Extradition Act 2003 the US can apply for a UK citizen to be extradited without having to present any evidence to face charges of a crime committed in the US – for which the UK citizen need not have been actually present.
For an example of how this works, take a look at the case of Brian Howes and Kerry Ann Shanks, who have had seven months detention in the UK and are now facing deportation to Arizona and potential 100 year sentences. They ran an Internet chemical supplies company selling, among other things, iodine and red phosphorus – which is perfectly legal in the UK but not in the US, where they're controlled as precursors to methamphetamine production. Quite a lot of these chemicals found their way into quite a lot of meth labs in the US meaning, say the Americans, that Howes and Shanks knowingly supplied the substances.
They haven't been charged with anything in the UK, but the only defence they have against the extradition is to show that it didn't follow the right procedures. There's no test of evidence, and should they be deported they'll have no access to legal aid.
It can certainly be argued that it's wrong to supply drug factories with chemicals on an industrial scale. In that case, the normal rule of law should apply: make it illegal in this country and test the cases in UK courts.
It's far harder to argue that IP infringement – still basically a civil matter, frequently of debatable harm in most cases – should put UK citizens in peril of a foreign judiciary with no effective safeguards whatsoever.
But this could happen. It could happen to you or me – are you in total compliance with all your copyright material? I know I'm not: I actually read EULAs.
See you in the state pen.