DRM-Integrated Intel Processor Draws Fire

Jeff Berg
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Computer hardware maker Intel has released the first in a series of digital rights management-integrated chips that will eventually extend to home computers, drawing criticism and concern from some computer experts.

The new chip, part of the PXA27x processor family, is intended to be used in mobile and wireless devices and features Intel’s Wireless MMX technology, which promises to speed up 2-D and 3-D gaming, streaming MPEG4 video and Digital TV reception.

The most controversial feature of the new chip, though, is the incorporation of the Intel Wireless Trusted Platform, technology developed by the Trusted Computing Group, a conglomerate of computer industry giants concerned about the spread of copyrighted works.

While the Wireless Trusted Platform provides secure boot, cryptographic acceleration and a bevy of integrated security protocols, the technology also raises a variety of concerns about censorship, according to Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering and the leader of the security group at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory.

“[Trusted Computing] provides a computer platform on which you can’t tamper with the application software, and where these applications can communicate securely with their authors and with each other,” wrote Anderson.

“The original motivation was digital rights management,” Anderson said. “Disney will be able to sell you DVDs that will decrypt and run on a TC platform, but which you won’t be able to copy. 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.”

In addition to helping secure the entertainment industry’s hold on copyrighted works, the new platform will also allow software manufacturers easier control over pirated software. One of the most startling aspects of the new technology, according to Anderson, extends to the amount of control that it will allow, because TC-enabled hardware will enable the tracking, as well as shutting on and off, of any files created using a specific computer.

“The potential for abuse extends far beyond commercial bullying and economic warfare into political censorship,” said Anderson. “First, some well-intentioned police force will get an order against a pornographic picture of a child or a manual on how to sabotage railroad signals. All TC-compliant PCs will delete, and perhaps report, these bad documents.”

“Then a litigant in a libel or copyright case will get a civil court order against an offending document,” Anderson said. “A dictator’s secret police could punish the author of a dissident leaflet by deleting everything she ever created using that system – her new book, her tax return, even her kids’ birthday cards.”

Drawing a link between the invention of the Gutenberg printing press and the ease with which it allowed common-language Bibles to be printed in order to take power away from the Catholic church, Anderson theorizes that new TC-enabled hardware could present risks for free information.

“When Wycliffe translated the Bible into English in 1380, the Lollard movement he started was suppressed easily; but when Tyndale translated the New Testament in 1524, he was able to print of 50,000 copies before they caught him and burned him at the stake,” Anderson said. “TC has placed at risk the priceless inheritance that Gutenberg left us. Electronic books, once published will be vulnerable; the courts can order them to be unpublished and the TC infrastructure will do the dirty work.”