Digital freedom and privacy: from DRM to RFID

Computers are been widely used for about 50 years. First computers were for the government and military research groups, than they became available for most universities and social research centers. Former networks like ARPANET were also for the government and scientists needs, it was very friendly environment. There were too few insiders and there were no viruses, spam and fishing. Secrets had been kept by the strong encryption and there were really valuable secrets to keep.

Than Morris showed the world how fast pseudo-live computer worm may stop work of thousands computers running the buggy software and computer crackers become a real treat. Just a bit later really revolutionary idea appeared: the computer can be used not only as a chess master robot or earthquake simulator, but for the routine tasks, communication and documents processing. And even more fantastic idea: it can be used for the games and for the fun like music and motion pictures. It’s very native for us to listen to the MP3 music, but at that moment it was a revolution in marketing and science. At first everything was great: we saw real quality improvements, production price reduce and the media become more protected against the time. Copying became not quality reducing for the content, because the digital record quality does not depend on media. We don’t loose anything during the content duplication as it was with tape or vinyl. Content is heavy and in 90th nobody was able to imagine teenager with supercomputer equipped with 10Mb worldwide network and 500GB storage. And with a really cheap device which can duplicate 4-7 GB in 20 minutes for just 10 cents. Magnetic tape has poor sound, is hard to copy, it become useless in 5 years and it costs about 50 times more than the DVD-R which can store your favorite movie for ages with the incredible sound and hi-resolution picture. And you can share it with the whole world for free just in 20 minutes. That is the real digital age revolution, a teenager with supercomputer and super storage. Of course copywriters are not agree with this situation: they still want us to buy media, not a record, not a permission to listen it in the way you would prefer. And they had invented the DRM: Digital Rights Management, or better say Restrictions Management. The idea as usual is good and simple: we would encrypt the content you may copy but would sell copy-dependent decryption key to legal users. Look how it’s great: pirate can not see anything because he has no key. And we would go even far: we would prohibit decrypted content copying with the home theater devices. It’s easy because there are less than 10 manufacturers and 90% of them are media copywriters too. Pirate would not be able to copy the content, isn’t it great? It is not because pirate is much more claver than legal user. It’s evident that decryption key would be hard coded in every software player, we would have it in a minute and every body would be able to decrypt DVD without asking the copywriter’s permission. That made copywriters to produce new laws against such decryption methods, they assume decryption algorithm as their private intellectual property. Again, pirates don’t care about the laws. But legal users now can not make their own DVD software without paying royalty even they had never used any Sony or Philips research results. You can not even play movie you bought in USA on your European player. Ask Sony why you can not do anything you want with your legally bought DVD and legally payed home theater. Ask them why DRM which was invented to protect movie from pirate does not allow to skip advertisement when you had payed 50$ for it. Ask them why you can not see even your own family movie on wide screen. And why Windows Media is not readable for iPod and visa versa even if you pay? The honest answer is: they assume you to be a pirate when you bought your DVD. You is guilty a-priori and you should pay all RIAAA taxes and you should be restricted with your human rights even if you have not done anything illegal. You are guilty without any court decision.

Now we see new revolution of wireless communication when hardware became sensitive enough for low-energy remote communications. Again a beautiful idea of removing wires that connect gadgets becomes a Big Brother servant. They call it Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Imagine you have you passport, driving license and wallet in your cell phone. You should not show your documents in airport and parking lot, you just pass by invisible RFID scanner and it would scan your name remotely and instantly. Good idea, but everyone can have such a scanner. Information can not be encrypted of protected in any way due to same reason that DVD has: too many scanner would be available. You can fail showing your normal passport to the policeman, you can hide your face from the person you do not like but the RFID would track your location where ever you are without asking you. You can say you are loyal and have nothing to hide from your tax man, wife or CIA but just remember the situation with DVD: you may become guilty just because it’s needed for man or company.

So do that technologies treat you? Yes, they do. If you are already guilty for having the DVD player, why buy legal content? If you have the illegal content you have something to hide from your wife, tax man and CIA but you would be tracked with the RFID in you cell phone. You can protect your self against that technologies: use as few DRM-enabled devices as possible, use as much open technologies as possible and pay for you Microsoft Office if you feel yourself not native enough for open solutions. Don’t be afraid and don’t be paranoid but clearly understand that Big Brother may be already watching you.



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