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Feds' raids hit alleged mod chip smugglers

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in 16 states go after gear that lets gamers play pirated wares on Wii, Xbox and other consoles.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
2 min read

Look out, modders: federal customs agents have just announced a new crackdown on the smuggling of "illegal" devices that enable gamers to play pirated wares on Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's Xbox and Xbox 360, Sony's Playstation 2 and other consoles.

As part of an ongoing investigation into the sale and distribution of such "circumvention devices," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from 22 offices said they raided businesses, storefronts and residents in 16 states on Wednesday. They reported executing 32 search warrants, but there was no word on whether any arrests were made.

The ICE agents said they're targeting chips and devices that were manufactured in foreign countries and exported to the United States, allowing gamers to play "illegally obtained, pirated and/or counterfeit software." They're also getting help from the Justice Department's computer crime unit and from the entertainment industry.

The feds are heralding the raids as "the largest national enforcement action of its kind targeting this type of illegal activity." They said they're not ready, however, to reveal any specifics about the operation, such as names and addresses of their targets.

According to ICE, mod chips and circumvention devices violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 federal law that prohibits people from sidestepping copy-protection mechanisms, albeit with some exceptions.

Sony, for one, has been using that argument for years in its own fight against modders in the United States and elsewhere, and Microsoft has also taken legal action against vendors of XBox hacking tools in the past.

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the video game industry, argues the allegedly illicit activities siphon billions of dollars from console makers, game developers and others in the industry worldwide. Nintendo, for its part, said in a statement Wednesday that it has seized more than 91,000 counterfeit Wii discs globally since April and estimates last year's piracy-related sales losses at $726 million.

ICE assistant secretary Julie Myers claimed the problem is worse than just unrealized money in the bank. Such crimes, she said in a press release, also "facilitate multiple other layers of criminality, such as smuggling, software piracy and money laundering."