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SSSCA: like the DMCA, only worse

Many in the computer industry are alarmed by the proposed Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, which would make it illegal to sell anything with a microprocessor in it unless the device had copy protection built in.

Many people in the computer industry are becoming alarmed over the proposed Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA), now under consideration by the US Senate. A glance at the draft document amply explains their alarm. It begins by making it illegal "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."

The bill is backed by Democratic senator Fritz Hollings, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. Disney is said to be the chief commercial sponsor. Where the hotly contested Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) made it illegal to circumvent copy protection, the SSSCA would make it illegal to sell anything with a microprocessor in it unless the device had copy protection built in. Anyone who sold such a device without copy protection would be liable to fines of up to half a million dollars and five years in prison.

Such an extreme piece of legislation prompts the question, Are they serious? "Yes, but no," said Free Software Foundation general counsel Eben Moglen. "Serious about having Fritz Hollings hawking their ultimate wish list around the Hill, putting weight behind it in a major way, and about starting with an extreme position because they know that in order to get a coalition built in the Senate, where nothing can be done without an industry consensus, they have to start by yanking the conversation as far as they can in their own direction ? the consumer electronics and hardware industries, which are way bigger than they are, will yank it as far back the other way as possible."

Moglen has been closely involved with the defense of Shawn Reimerdes and the other hackers who helped reverse-engineer the DVD content scrambling system. That case is now on appeal before the Second Circuit. Moglen claims credit for having predicted, in a speech he gave at New York University in March, that: "when the DVD cases ripen and the First Amendment conflict with DMCA-style technology control becomes fierce, Disney will introduce legislation to make free software illegal. This is the bill. Which means they're getting as worried about the Second Circuit in Reimerdes as I am getting hopeful." Moglen may be right in thinking that the extremity of Disney's position reflects the company's perception of the threat it faces. Other, less sanguine observers wonder whether the consumer electronics and hardware industries will oppose the bill at all. As they point out, the proposed copy protection schemes resemble nothing so much as the so-called Trusted Computing Platform that Compaq, HP, IBM, Intel and Microsoft have been working on for years.

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