On October 10, 2001,RedHat issued a call for comments on a U.S. bill currently in draft, the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, or SSSCA, which would make it a crime to produce an "interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies" stated in the bill. I responded to the call with a fairly lengthy piece, which I provide here with some minor improvements.
The "Security Systems Standards and Certification Act", currently being drafted for consideration by Congress, as it is currently written, by requiring that basically all computing devices manufactured and sold contain safeguards to prohibit the copying of copyrighted material, certainly would have wide and far-reaching implications for the computer industry.
Of course, all hard drives these days contain a small processor inside them, a "little computer," to help fetch and record information. If a copy of some copyrighted material were to even pass through the wire from a PC or Mac to one of these devices, there would have to be the option, somewhere, to catch this information in transit. By criminalizing the manufacture of computing devices that copy information, hard drive manufacturers would have to build safety measures into their hardware to prevent this from happening.
Ah, this one may not be so obvious. But practically all T.V. sets these days, too, are computers, that is to say they contain a processor, and what they do both inside their computer brains and display on their cathode ray tubes is copying. Yes, copying. For the phosphors on the surface of that screen, by faintly glowing when struck by the electron beam that carries the picture, are indeed holding information, information that can be read by a camcorder, digital camera, or human beings for that matter. Sure, the information must be refreshed continually or it fades, but then again, so must volatile RAM, a goodly quantity of which is in any "explicit" computer you could point to.
Now, some would stop me right here and say that isn’t copying, it’s displaying. This is where I bring in my first argument, that really there is no difference. Because:
There is no difference between copying and basically anything a computer does with information.
This is because copying is what computers do. Internally, externally, to handle any sort of information, it must be copied. A file coming in off the Internet is copied to RAM so it can be worked on, but by this definition, everything a computer does is work! Inside a microprocessor, data is temporarily copied into cache memory, that is another copy right there. Web browsers keep files in a cache on a hard drive, that is another copy, whether the user realizes it is being made or not.
Now this is absurd, one might argue, that it is obvious when data is being copied for infringing use and when it is being copied for basic work. But it isn’t absurd at all, really, it is just an arbitrary line drawn in the sand, based on lawmakers’ limited experiences of what computers are and do. There is a reason so many programmers detest the DMCA and will detest this bill even more. It is because they have a much more open mind concerning what constitutes data and work, because they have to have it, it is the only way one can make a computer do useful work. That is a terribly good thing to have, by the way, because by thinking of information in new ways, and of new ways to work with it, new ways to represent it, we get further computing advances, new software ideas, entire new segments of our (usually_ vaunted tech sector, flowers, sunshine, and economic goodness. But if everything that can even remotely be considered a computer must contain a mechanism to prohibit the possible transmission of copyrighted data, then suddenly many people who have absolutely nothing to do with anything having to do with piracy, and never will, would be guilty. And "fixing" their products and ideas (many of which, such as open source projects, are not even made with commercial intent but are worked on by individuals for the collective good of mankind, and would be slaughtered from the start by even the hint of a lawsuit) would be an incalculable loss, and all just because movie makers want to stop some tiny number of people from making bootleg copies of Independence Day.
Let’s take an example from another, much better, movie, the recent film A.I. David, the android child in the film, is a wonderous creation. A computerized being that can think and feel, indeed, as the movie reminds us over and over, almost beating us over the head with it, can even love. Humanity has long dreamed of creating another kind of being like themselves, and indeed, as suggested by the movie at the end, if this thing called life is to have any way of surviving for very long periods of time, it may be someday necessary to "pass the torch" to such sentient machines.
But such beings, even David himself, as an unavoidable side-effect of their existence, would violate the SSSCA, because their memories, necessary to recording their experiences so that they might be able to learn and function, would require the copying of information. Without a device to censor their memory, their creators would violate the SSSCA. With such a device, they would be able to enjoy no print, audio, visual, or, oddly enough, software that happens to pass before their eyes or ears. Hell, if David were to see a cartoon and draw a picture in crayon of Bugs Bunny, that would also violate the DMCA! It may be an imperfect, "lossy" rendition of his subject, but that’s what JPEG images are, anyhow.
This may seem like a strange example, and one could suggest that an exception to this law can be introduced, either now or when beings such as David are created. But if creating one is illegal, then making one in the first place would be against the law, and would never happen. And furthermore, I chose David as a rather extreme example that many people are familiar with. Uncounted small projects, again, many created not by corporations but by individuals and not even produced with the expectation of profit, would violate the act. Many of these we cannot even imagine at this time, and because of this it is impossible to except them all individually. Thus I conclude that passing the SSSCA would be a great travesty, and by requiring everyone, both corporations and individuals alike, to include these laughable controls in their creations, which must necessarily cripple the devices in which they function, would in turn cripple the U.S. computer industry, and could very well cost our technological edge over other nations with more sensible legislatures.