- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

Today, get an update on the ongoing war by the entertainment industry against privacy and civil liberties. Oppressive intrusiveness for its own sake isn't Hollywood's intent. But it is the effect.
The movie and music industries are frantic because people are downloading copyrighted CDs and DVDs from the Internet. A moral sea change has led to a widespread belief that anything in digital form is de facto in the public domain.
Digital technology makes piracy very hard to stop. Doing so requires means bordering on the totalitarian. Again, the industry has no totalitarian aims. Yet it is trying for commercial reasons to impose politically dangerous intrusiveness.
When a new movie appears, Hollywood wants to distribute it only in theaters until the film has made as much money as possible, when it will be released on digital video disc.
Pirates go to the theater with miniature video cameras and film the screen. They then burn this stolen version onto DVDs. The quality isn't terrific, but it's watchable. The movie thus becomes available somewhere in the world for a few bucks before it reaches theaters. Today, ordinary digital cameras can be used to "tape" movies.
Various tech sites report that some theaters have resorted to metal detectors and night-vision gear to catch pirates. Even this doesn't work well: Minicameras can "film" through a buttonhole.
The Recording Industry Association of America, with the support of the Bush administration, is urging the courts to force Verizon to reveal the names of people swapping music on the Internet. Verizon has appealed.
The music industry sought a subpoena under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows companies to force disclosure of Internet users' names without a judge's order.
The constitutionality of the Verizon case hasn't been decided. But if one industry gets the right to force Internet service providers to disclose personal information, the odds are good that others will follow.
Meanwhile, several states, prodded by the industry, have passed what is being called "Super DCMA." Super DCMA adds more restrictions on what the public can do. When technically illiterate legislatures pass laws about things they don't understand, the results can be awful.
Under Super DCMA, it is illegal to conceal or to assist another to conceal from any communication service provider or from any lawful authority the existence or place of origin or destination of any communication.
Is blocking caller ID now a crime?
As Peter Coffee of eWeek points out, this "could make it illegal to use a network firewall." How many politicians know a fire wall from a baked potato?
A common technique of computer security is what is called NAT, or network address translation. This means that a lot of e-mail addresses are hidden behind one Web address. The technical details are irrelevant here. The point is that it is very common and has nothing to do with piracy. Is it going to be illegal by accident because legislators vote at the urging of the industry?
This is not paranoid speculation. Writes Jim Rapoza, also of eWeek: "Now Super DCMA has claimed one of its first victims, the award-winning open-source application LaBrea, which is designed to stop the spread of worms such as Nimda across the Internet. Tom Liston, developer of LaBrea, has stopped distribution of the program for fear of prosecution under the Illinois version of this law."
Note that the software in question has nothing whatsoever to do with copyright piracy.
Over and over, the entertainment industry, pushing for laws or using techniques of surveillance, intrudes ever more deeply into our lives.

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