- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

You probably have never heard of the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, or TCPA. You should if you want control over your computer.
The Internet, exploding out of nowhere, became a threat to two groups: Governments that wanted to control the flow of information to their people, and industries, chiefly the entertainment and software businesses, that saw their products being digitally copied and distributed without payment.
Thing is, it can't be stopped, except by dangerously intrusive means. Thus TCPA.
This is a scheme backed by Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, IBM, Microsoft, HP and many others, to build into all computers' hardware a means of control over the machines' use. It's complicated, but works like this:
Built into the motherboard of your computer, where you can't easily get at it, will be what is called a "Fritz chip" (for Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, South Carolina Democrat.)
Later the chip will be integrated into the processor, where for practical purposes it will be beyond tampering.
When you turn on your computer the Fritz chip makes sure that all the hardware on your machine is TCPA-compliant. If not, it doesn't run. Then it hands control to software, often called Palladium, that checks all the software on your machine against a list of approved programs obtained automatically from the Internet. If you have a program that isn't approved, it won't run and can be deleted automatically.
Your computer will have a unique ID number that will be used to guarantee that you only have registered and paid-for copies of software. Otherwise they will be deleted. Automatically.
Obviously, music-sharing programs such as Kazaa, Morpheus and other Napster follow-ons will instantly be deleted.
There's also a blacklist for documents and files. Says notcpa.org, a Web site opposing TCPA, "Imagine: You're not able to play one of your thousand MP3s anymore, because they don't have a valid certificate, even though the original CD sits in your rack. Not one of your movies."
You also gave Microsoft permission to delete all the files, once it has found them. You don't believe me? Read the last End User License Agreement of your Media Player.
Why does this matter?
First, it will be an incredible nuisance. If you change your hardware, by adding a video card for example, you will have to go online to re-register your computer.
Second, it will establish the principle of compulsory supervision of your computer, and control of what you may have on it, by unaccountable remote authorities.
Third, it will be vulnerable to government abuse. As one person writing on the notcpa.org put it, "I expect that it will proceed a step at a time. First, some well-intentioned police force will get an order against a pornographic picture of a child, or a manual on how to sabotage railroad signals. All TCPA-compliant PCs will delete, or perhaps report, these bad documents. Then a litigant in a libel or copyright case will get a civil court order against an offending document," and so on.
The danger lies in establishing the precedent that the government can censor your use of your computer. Once it is possible to check software on a hard drive against a remote list, it will be a short step to checking against a blacklist of Web sites. First, yes, kid-porn sites will be blacklisted.
Then it will be sites judged by the government to be related to terrorism or, next, useful to terrorists, or hostile to the administration, or guilty of hate speech, or sites promoting racism in the eyes of nameless federal bureaucrats.
Questions of sovereignty arise. Intel, AMD, IBM and Motorola make almost all the world's computers. It's spooky, and it's coming in the back door.



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