Who told Dean to scream for lock-down, TCPA computing?

TCPA-boosting campaign manager Trippi on the edge


Campaign 2004 Last week we noted how "empowering the edges of the network" had become a mindless mantra for techno-utopian pundits eager to profit from Howard Dean's presidential campaign. As we wrote then, this kind of New Age cobblers did a huge disservice to both Dean and his supporters. But it looks even less clever now than it did a week ago, when Dean's campaign stalled badly in the Iowa caucuses.

As it turns out, Dean was doing more to advocate locking down the "edge of the network" than any other Democrat candidate. And the finger of suspicion for feeding the Presidential Candidate this line of argument points firmly to his campaign manager, Joe Trippi.

Trippi was a stockholder, employee and booster for Wave Systems, the company contracted by Intel to implement TCPA (Trusted Computing Platform Alliance) specifications. Microsoft's implementation of this architecture was unveiled as 'Palladium' two years ago; now it's called NGSCB, and is slated to ship in the next major version of Windows, Longhorn.

Viewed by copyright holders as the ultimate silver bullet, TCPA turns the open PC into a lock-down system where software can't be executed and media can't be played without the right-holders' permission. As Ross Anderson explains here.

"The music industry will be able to sell you music downloads that you won't be able to swap. They will be able to sell you CDs that you'll only be able to play three times, or only on your birthday. All sorts of new marketing possibilities will open up."

So TCPA represented a dramatic shift from end users (at the "edge of the network") to centralized copyright holders, spawning sites such as Against TCPA and No TCPA.

"TCPA will set standards for the OEMs in June," vowed Trippi three years ago, as proof of his affection for Wave Systems stock. [Thanks to Gary Wolf for unearthing that gem.] Trippi continues to list Wave Systems as a client of his marketing consultancy, Catapult Systems.

Dean himself enters the picture with a speech that he gave to a conference co-sponsored by Wave Systems in March 2002 entitled "Workshop on States Security: Identity, Authentication, Access Control" reported by Declan McCullagh at CNET today, on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.

In the speech, which you can read on uh, Wave Systems website, Dean describes privacy as an "urban myth" and explains "little has been spent to secure the most vulnerable part of the network - the PC, the laptop, the government and corporate desktop computers – all at the perimeter of the computer network system." Yes, it's the national security angle that TCPA-vendors have been peddling, with the active encouragement of the law enforcement lobby.

Open PCs are dangerous, Dean argued.

"This is a mistake because the computing power at that perimeter can be used - Napster style - to take the entire network down," said Dean, according to the transcript. Dean suggested the cure should be interoperability between states' ID cards. "We must move to smarter license cards that carry secure digital information that can be universally read at vital checkpoints."

Reinventing the Internet?

McCullagh's entry into the 2004 Presidential campaign has been eagerly anticipated. In the 2000 Presidential race his coverage of a claim by Al Gore to have 'invented the Internet' reached national notoriety.

"If it's true that Al Gore created the Internet, then I created the 'Al Gore created the Internet' story," McCullagh boasted.

Although technical luminaries such as Vint Cerf came to Gore's defense ("It is very fair to say that the Internet would not be where it is in the United States without the strong support given it and related research areas by the vice president in his current role and in his earlier role as senator," said Cerf) the coverage made Gore the butt of jokes nationwide.

"We don't need 'Dean is Big Brother'," a consultant to the Dean campaign told The Register today. "'Al Gore invented the Internet' still won't go away."

McCullagh doesn't pass up the opportunity to moralize. "It's possible that Dean has a good explanation for his uniform ID card views, and can account for how his principles apparently changed so radically over the course of just two years.," writes McCullagh. "Perhaps he can't. But a refusal to answer difficult questions is not an attractive quality in a man who would be president."

And moralizing isn't always an attractive quality in a man who would be pundit either, Declan. So it's worth parsing what Dean really said, and on what basis McCullagh formed his stentorian, five cigar conclusion, before we can judge either party.

Omitted from McCullagh's CNET commentary account is Dean's plea to preserve privacy.

"We will not, and should not, tolerate a call to erode privacy even further - far from it," said Dean. "Americans can only be assured that their personal identity and information are safe and protected when they are able to gain more control over this information and its use."

Dean pointed out that privacy was already compromised as vast amounts of personal information are already shared between financial corporations and logged by Internet companies. (And lest we forget, harvested by social networks like Friendster). He wasn't advocating a national ID card, and said that public trust depended on Chinese walls built into the card.

Privacy advocates are mistrustful of such Chinese walls: believing that the benefits of data sharing are too tempting for corporate and federal interests to resist. There's also plenty of skepticism that local, or function-specific introductions of smartcards morph into all-purpose 'Big Brother' cards. But Dean is clearly well aware of the privacy concerns, and his advocacy leaves Dean guilty of little more than naivety.

And on that count, Dean can justifiably question the advice of his campaign manager, who was more interested in serving his stock portfolio (and marketing clients) than the Candidate.

What a long strange Trippi it's been

So there we have it: Dean wasn't advocating a national ID card, nor was he blithely inviting smart card vendors to breach citizens' privacy even further. However, it was remarkably ill-advised of him to advocate locking down the PC "at the edge of the network" without examining the implications for the consumer, or even the software industry.

Only that wouldn't be a story now if it hadn't been for the techno-utopian pundits getting carried away with an almost religious belief in power "at the edge of the network". What does this Forrest Gump-style fortune cookie mean, exactly?

As far as we can tell, it describes one characteristic of one model of collective behavior. 'Collective' is a word you don't hear too much nowadays, but Microsoft Corporation is one form of collective organization, as are the Teamsters, the Catholic Church, and the Santa Fe Institute. When people unite around collective action, the results can be very far reaching.

But the word has been deprecated in favor of much more fashionable rhetoric usually touted by supporters of "emergent" capers such as Poindexter's Terror Casino.

Dean supporters will hardly be thanking these commentators and experts for this foolish flirtation with New Age rhetoric, which has handed Dean's opponents with an unexpected PR opportunity. It certainly wasn't sought. But the 'blogosphere' may soon want to 'self-correct' this unwanted mini-industry of pundits and 'consultants'. ®

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