Tuesday, February 12, 2002
The Loss of Digital Freedom
Technology has provided us with new means of communication, means which allows us to share information almost instantly. The government of the United States wishes to enforce copyright law to protect all individuals’ rights to their own original information. The government of the U.S. is no longer concerned with the protection of the individual but instead wishes to protect its economic future by giving more rights to corporations via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, commonly known as the D.M.C.A.
Before an argument relating to the D.M.C.A. can be made the reader must be informed about its contents. The D.M.C.A is a bill passed by Congress in 1998 which makes it illegal to “circumvent” any means of copy protection:
Sec. 1201. Circumvention of copyright protection systems
(2) No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that—
The D.M.C.A. imposes a ban on certain kinds of technical innovation and stiff penalties for violating that ban. No longer is computer research a completely legal field as scientists may have to worry about creating software that is suddenly illegal.
With the introduction of the D.M.C.A bill Americans have had their fundamental right guaranteed by the first amendment of the Bill of Rights restricted. Americans’ ability to speak their mind varies with person, ability, and context. When mathematicians write their formulae and postulate theories they are speaking in the symbols of mathematics; deaf people shape their hands into patterns when they are speaking with their body; programmers write software to speak through the computer. Not only has the creation of this speech been restricted, but as well as the freedom of the press. When any theory, idea, or object is created it must be tested to prove its worth. Car manufacturers run all of their cars through rigorous safety tests to make sure they work properly and attempt to remove all flaws. Security professionals run tests on programs to find any security flaws in their operation. They cannot legally investigate, document, and publish their findings unless given express permission by the owner of the software in mention. Software companies will immediately deny permission of publication of any documents because they don’t want the end users knowing their software has flaws. The D.M.C.A insures that the consumers of the product cannot be informed security issues in the software they paid for, legally binding consumers to bad workmanship and insecure software. If Albert Einstein wishes to postulate that E=MC2 is true, he should be allowed to pose his ideas in any circumstance. Despite the fact that Einstein’s theories challenged Newton’s work, he was not imprisoned for display of new ideas.
When a scientist creates theories, he must have proof to back them up with reason. This scientist, in his laboratory, has his myriad of tools all of which are legal to possess and use. During his research his discovers that his colleague had in fact made an error earlier so he publishes a paper with his findings. In the information world this lovely tale takes a turn for worse as many of the tools programmers, security specialists, and others use have been made illegal by the D.M.C.A. A crowbar is a normal enough tool used to break open crates at the local warehouse, but it can also be used for breaking into cars or peoples’ homes. Does this make the crowbar illegal? It makes the tools of the security specialist very illegal for the very same reasons.
A very controversial case that enforces the D.M.C.A. relates to Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian cryptographer. Adobe Corporation created a software program called eBooks which are encrypted with a childishly simple encryption. Sklyarov created a software program to remove the encryption to allow the document to be printed out for offline reading, read on computers that were not Windows platforms, and even allow the blind to hear the documents read. Sklyarov came to America to speak on his work at a security convention. Adobe did not let this go unnoticed and had the FBI arrest under the D.M.C.A. Is it right to arrest someone for telling people about the flaws inherent with a system? If this continues the Americas will end up as the Ministry of Truth with Sklyarov committing thought-crimes.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a direct violation of our human rights as well as the rights all Americans receive under their Bill of Rights. With rights taken from the people and given to the corporations technological advancement will most definitely suffer from this injustice. The D.M.C.A. needs to either be rewritten or repealed completely.