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art/Marty Kelley

Rip, Mix, Burn--Go to Jail!

Imagine a world where the Federal Government, in an effort to control what is on the personal computers of its citizens, forces each and every one of them to install a program on their computer which effectively watches and restricts the type of media that can be used on it. Thank God that would never happen.

Well, actually, it seems that God is taking the day off on this one. Enter the "Security Systems Standards and Certification Act" (SSSCA). It is a law currently being proposed by Senators Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and it aims to install just this sort of government-approved "policeware" on all new personal computers and digital home entertainment devices sold in the United States.

The demand for this bill came from the entertainment industry in an effort to dismantle the current freedom from enforcement of copyright infringement that millions of personal computer users are enjoying since the advent of the highly compressed mp3 music format and several other video and audio formats. These new formats have made piracy and distribution of pirated materials and software a cinch, and have got the collective panties of the entertainment industry in a bunch. So bunched, in fact, that they have been lobbying Congress to go even further down the dark, dismal path of evil that is the restriction of freedom by forcing people to keep software on their hard drives that scans for copyrighted material.

Says the bill:

"It is unlawful to manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide or otherwise traffic in any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies that adhere to the security systems standards."

Unlawful! No more freedom of media on your computer! Over the course of a year following the enactment of the bill, these "security systems standards" will be agreed upon by the manufacturers of digital media equipment and by copyright owners.

Files that violate the new law could consist of copyrighted music files, CDs, video clips, DVD's, e-books, and more. Violation could result in up to a $500,000 fine and five years in prison. Think you'll be smart and subvert the law by removing the policeware? Think again --trying to remove or tamper with the government software could also put you behind bars up to for five years.

This provision could also hurt alternative operating systems such as Linux and FreeBSD. (Goddamned Microsoft doesn't even have them in its spellchecker.) Since these two open-source systems would probably refuse to incorporate government policeware into their code, users of alternative OS's could also be subject to imprisonment. And the companies that design and market operating systems free of government control will be vanquished.

By the way, this policeware is exactly how a hacker's Trojan horse works. Trojan horses are a very popular method that hackers use to gain control of a computer. Hackers covertly trick people into running programs that install themselves onto the victim's computer, which then signals to the hacker that the computer is online and vulnerable, at which time the hacker can pretty much have their way with the victim's PC. It does this through a connectivity vulnerability running in tandem with the Trojan program.

So now the Federal Government wants to be the ultimate hacker, the one you can't be safe from, by installing a Trojan horse onto your computer.
And once the perceived success of the entertainment industry's policeware is gauged, I sincerely doubt that the government will stop there when there's so much pornography and pirated software running on so many millions of machines. Oh yeah, maybe they'll go after terrorists, too, and lay the groundwork for future incarceration of people with dissenting opinions, if it comes to that.

There is good news. Technology industry heavyweights such as Microsoft, IBM, and Intel vehemently oppose this blatant intrusion of government into the commercial marketplace. Also, there seems to be a great deal of skepticism as to whether such a plan is workable. Said Jeff Lawrence, chairman of Intel's copyright protection group, "It's a mistake to say that there is a magic bullet out there that somebody's going to invent."

You can contribute to the fight by taking a moment to sign the online petition below and/or write your congressperson about this issue. The future of digital media is at stake, and if we are to keep government software off of our computers and out of our entertainment systems, we must act quickly.

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