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Re: Retracting the term ownership (was: Re: Separate trusted computing d

From: Marcus Brinkmann
Subject: Re: Retracting the term ownership (was: Re: Separate trusted computing designs)
Date: Fri, 01 Sep 2006 19:16:33 +0200
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At Fri, 1 Sep 2006 17:44:54 +0200,
Pierre THIERRY <address@hidden> wrote:
> Scribit Marcus Brinkmann dies 01/09/2006 hora 00:36:
> > > DRM is an unfortunate perversion of this technical capability.
> > My current opinion is that the analysis indicates that it is not a
> > perversion of the technology, but that the perversion is inherent in
> > the technology, because of the inherent nature of information as
> > non-proprietarizable.
> > 
> > Interestingly enough, the same argument shows that the technology
> > fundamentally doesn't work in the long run.  However, even if it
> > doesn't work in principle, its attempted implementation can
> > potentially do a lot of harm in the meantime.
> I must admit I'm a bit confused here: what argument shows that the
> technology fundamentally doesn't work in the long run? And what do you
> mean exactly by this?

"Trusted computing" is the attempt to put information into a box,
providing only restricted views on the data inside it.  It is the
attempt to turn information into something material, that only exists
once, and that can be alienated by giving it from one person to

However, the nature of information is very different.  As Thomas
Jefferson pointed out:

  If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of
  exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an
  idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he
  keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself
  into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess
  himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses
  the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who
  receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without
  lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light
  without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to
  another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man,
  and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and
  benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire,
  expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any
  point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our
  physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive
  appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of

I recommend the whole letter:

Note that Jefferson not only correctly identifies the very different
nature of ideas as opposed to matter, but also draws the correct
consequences for how society should handle and regulate ideas.  Please
read the whole letter for more details.

This observation goes back way before Jefferson.  St Augustinus
remarked in De doctrina christiana, in the context of teaching

 "For if a thing is not diminished by being shared with others, it is
 not rightly owned if it is only owned and not shared."

St Augustinus thus also realized the peculiar nature of information,
which separates it from ordinary matter, and drew the right
conclusions about how society should handle it (in that particular

This nature of information is also apparent in many other domains or
applications.  It is not an accident that every single copy protection
measure in history has been broken.  It is simply impossible to
distribute information to other people and at the same time restrict
its distribution.  It can be made difficult, yes, but it can not be
made impossible.  The only way to make it impossible for others to
distribute or use information is to not give it to them in the first

If the history of copy protection measures does not convince you,
there is a related observation that may.  It turns out that it is
extraordinary hard to remove information from a system (that's the
basis for watermarking techniques).  Statistical analysis allows one
to recover even traces of information from a data set.  For example,
you need to suppress 88% of the data from an online moving rating
system to successfully hide the identity of the people rating the
movies, if those people also participate in an online discussion forum
about movies [1].  It is not an accident that the anonymization of
data sets is a hard theoretical problem: I believe it is related to
its very nature.  But note that similar techniques can be used to
recover information from "trusted computing" systems, for example by
analog to digital conversion.

[1] You Are What You Say: Privacy Risks of Public Mentions
    Frankowski, 2006, SIGIR

What happens once you recovered the data that "trusted computing"
tries to lock away?  It ends up on the next P2P network, where
everybody can download it.  This is why even strong restrictions do
not amount to very much: Only one person or group needs to recover the
data once to make it available to everybody.  Have you ever tried to
delete something from the internet?

Of course, if confronted with these arguments, "trusted computing"
supporters point out that absolute restriction is not necessary, but
that it suffices to make it sufficiently difficult.  But that is
beside the point.  I agree that techniques can be used to make it
harder, maybe even arbitrarily hard.  However, the critical point is
that the attempt alone is against the nature of information, or, to
put it more bluntly, pervers.  It is reactionary.

It is my believe that we will achieve a much more just, responsible
and efficient society by not fighting against the very nature of
information, but by exploiting its genuine properties to our
advantage.  This is already happening.  More people use file sharing
software in the USA than vote for the presidency[2].  Well, that tells
us something about the perceived respective values of these actions.

[2] According to http://www.eff.org/share/

But it is not only the economy of information that calls for a
reaffirmation of the nature of information in society, after a
somewhat dark age of corporate control over our culture.  There are
many other factors to consider as well, for example empowerment of the
workers at their workplace, government transparency, accessibility,
just to name a few.


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