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bit-split, or: the schizophrenia of trusted computing

From: Marcus Brinkmann
Subject: bit-split, or: the schizophrenia of trusted computing
Date: Sun, 30 Apr 2006 21:30:51 +0200
User-agent: Wanderlust/2.14.0 (Africa) SEMI/1.14.6 (Maruoka) FLIM/1.14.7 (Sanjō) APEL/10.6 Emacs/21.4 (i486-pc-linux-gnu) MULE/5.0 (SAKAKI)


at the risk of embarrassing myself due to bad prose, here are some
allegorical thoughts on the issue of TC, DRM and non-trivial
confinement, all of which can be taken as synonymous for a special
computer technology, which allows to enter into a contract of access
and control over a computer resource that is fundamentally
schizophrenic in nature.

This is the meaning of ownership: You own something if you have the
exclusive right to access, control and dispose it.

Note: If you are not patient with bad prose, skip the dreams.  They
are not essential.

Say you own a diary.  The diary is green.  The diary is your property.
It is your possession.  You enjoy it, you control it.  You are the
only one allowed to modify it.  You are the only one allowed to
determine who can read it.  You are the only one who is allowed to rip
out pages and throw them away.

This pink diary is your property.

Say you own a diary.  It is a blue diary.  This diary is a bit
strange.  You are the only one who can access it.  You are the only
one who can read it.  You are the only one who can write into it.  In
fact, the diary feels very much like the pink diary, so for a long
time you notice nothing.  Then you try to rip out a page.  You find it
doesn't come off.  You pull very hard, but the page resists.  You
throw away the whole diary.  The next day, it is back under your bed.
Eventually, you give up and start to use the diary again.  Then, one
day, all of a sudden, your diary vanishes.  You can't find it anymore
under the bed, on your desktop, or on the board with all the other
books.  Something happened to your diary.  It's gone.  It's disposed
of.  It is unrecoverable.  You know it wasn't you.  This diary is a
bit strange.  Somebody else, not you, had the ability to destroy it,
to dispose it, to make it go away.

This blue diary is not your property.

Say you own a diary.  The diary is yellow.  This diary is a bit
strange.  You can always find the diary, it does not go away by
itself.  But, sometimes the diary is locked, and you don't have a key.
When the diary is open, you can only read it some pages of it, the
other pages feel like they are glued together.  You can not just skip
to the end of it, either.  The pages you can read contain stories that
tell about a life that is not yours.  One time you decide that you
have enough.  You throw the diary away.  This seems to work.  The
diary is gone.  You have the right to dispose of it.  The yellow diary
is a bit strange.  You can not access it, you can not control it.  But
you can dispose of it.

This yellow daiary is not your property.

Say you have a blue or a yellow diary, and somebody comes along and
asks you this question:

"Is this your diary?"

What do you answer?

Ownership is the exclusive right to access, control and dispose of a
property.  If these rights are not all given, then ownership is
diluted, diffused.  Trusted computing separates ownership of _data_ in
access and control on the one hand, and disposal on the other.  This
is reflected in non-trivial confinement: One program creates the
constructor and determines its content and access to it.  The other
program provides the resources to run it.  This is schizophrenic, and
it creates a conflict of interest between two parties that previously
was not manifest in the item (the program) itself.

Of course, ownership in the real world is not as clear cut as the
common definition makes it sound.  For example, if you own a painting
of a certain cultural value, you are not allowed, by law, to destroy
it.  If you own land you are not allowed to poison it.  If you own an
animal you are not allowed to torture it.  If you own an illegal
picture that compromises your neighbour you may not be allowed to
disclose it.

However, these rules are not put into the property itself.  They are
rules that are build into the structure of society, not into the
structure of property.  They are rules that allow interpretation, and
change.  They are rules based on mutual agreement and understanding.
In short: they are part of the social contract.

Trusted computing and DRM impose not rules about property of items.
They impose rules about property of digital data.  They are one more
step in the continued attempt to reverse history, and to turn digital
information, the substance of ideas, into tangible objects.  They are
rules built into the objects themselves, which do not allow
interpretation or change.  They are rules that can only be enforced by
seizing control over the property that people use to access and modify
digital information, computers.  Computers have become too powerful,
and the industry is looking for a way to reduce this power by making
computers less useful, by owning a part of the computer of their

Because digital information is the substance of ideas, this attempt to
control somebody elses computer is analogous to any other attempt to
control somebody elses mind.  So, let me finish with one last weird

Say you have a thought.  It's a green thought.  You endulge in it.
You expand on it.  You remember it when you feel like you want to have
a green thought.  Then, some day, you decide to let lose.  You forget
the green thought.

This green thought was your thought.

Say you have a blue thought.  It's an interesting thought.  You are
inspired by it.  You expand on it.  Then, one day, somebody presses a
button and it's gone.  You can't remember it anymore.  You know you
just thought about it a minute ago, and you can not possibly have
forgotten it.  But it's gone.  On the request of somebody else.

This blue thought was not your thought.

Say you have a yellow thought.  It's not your thought.  Apparently you
are thinking somebody else's thought.  You try to think of something
different, but you can't.  The thought occupies your whole mind.  You
can not think of anything else.  Then, you concentrate very hard, and
can push the thought out of your mind.  However, you can not allow
yourself to think of something else.  Everytime you try, the yellow
thought comes back.

This yellow thought was not your thought.

If you want to own your thoughts, make them green.

Die Gedanken sind frei.

Because my prose is really bad, I will include below some quotes from
a keynote Eben Mogeln held at the Wizards of OS 3 conference in
Berlin, 2004.  I whole-heartedly recommend to read the whole keynote,
which is available here:


However, one particular excerpt I urge you to read more than any other:

"We must have the ability to make our various arts collaboratively out
of what we have already done by adding imagination untaxed to what
already is.  This is a promise for an acceleration of education
throughout the globe.  Billions of minds hungering for knowledge and
for beauty, to whom everything can now be given.  In a world where
everything is a bitstream, where the marginal cost of culture is zero,
where once one person has something, everything can be given to
everybody at the same costs that it was given to its first possessor,
it is immoral to exclude people from knowledge and from beauty.  That
is the great moral problem that the 20th century has be bequeathed to
the 21st.  We can eradicate ignorance at the expense of a few.  We
have to do it.  We cannot permit the voluntary starvation of most of
the minds on the planet.  We have a duty; we have a joy; we are
bringing to our colleagues, the human race, everything we know and
everything we love; there is no higher pleasure than delivering what
we love to those with whom we wish to share it, there is also no
deeper moral obligation."


More from the Eben Moglen keynote:

"The 20th century knew information as physical artifacts, stuff, that
costs money to make, move and sell.  More than at any moment in the
prior history of human beings, die Gedanken sind nicht frei, by
necessity because the stuff had costs.  Thomas Edison made it possible
for music, which had been for the whole history of human beings an act
of communion, a thing inherently shared, that music turned into a
product, an object, a commodity.  And from the commoditization of art
grew the belief that art could be owned.  Which made sense even when
art was bumps on a thin piece of tin foil in a plastic disc.  But art
has returned to the formlessness from which it came.  It has returned
to being what it was throughout the history of human beings until
Edison: it has returned being something that must be shared to exist.

The technology of the late 20th century reversed the conditions of
power that made it.  This is not the first time that that system of
social production called capitalism has had that effect.  When I wrote
a little thing called "The dotCommunist Manifesto" some while ago, I
was doing it in order to show that a form of social analysis
characteristic of those searching for freedom in the 19th century
might bear some recognition in the 21st.  Not as a matter of normative
political analysis but as a comment on the actualities of the day.
The struggle of Burgeoise technology towards ever greater functioning
such that it undermines its own conditions of existance was an
observation made by shrewd onlookers a hundred and fourty years ago,
and we live in the fullfillment of its truth.  Ownership struggled to
reduce its costs, to hold down the costs of making the commodity, in
order to free itself to greater profit.  And in the end, as was so
shrewdly noted in the 1860s: "All that was solid melted into air, and
air was something that we all knew we could freely breath."

And so we found ourselves confronting a system of power based upon
ideas of property relations that the technology of the owners was
already making obsolete.  It is not possible for industrial
organizations to do a better job of distributing music than 12
year-olds can do.  Hence the world in which the music industry
confronts the children on the barricades, attempts to jail them, fine
them, control them, and loses.  The same is true for all the other
forms of art given to us by the 20th century and being freed by the
very technology that the controllers of artists hoped would control
art even further.  This, like the adoption of movable type printing at
the end of the 15th century, constitutes a moment at which the powers
of control have adopted technology which transforms their conditions
of existance, will they, nil they.  They do not will it but it happens
to them anyway.  And the technology that they have freed, like the
sorcerer's apprentice, finds itself overwhelmed by its own

The free software movement, with which I have had some slight
association, the free software movement is the beginning of the
recognition of the implications of the technology.  A recognition
based not on the idea, "I could write better software if I could share
it with other people," but rather, as Mr. Stallman made clear from the
beginning, a political recognition: Freedom is a good in itself.
Inhibiting sharing, prohibiting people from teaching what they know to
others, and from learning what they want to know themselves is wrong.
The free software movement was not a technology movement; it was the
face of the struggle for freedom of thought in technological guise.
It took advantage of technological reality to bring about a deeper
scrutiny of political possibilities.  And we are here today because
those political possibilities have sunk in.

There is not a government on earth any longer which fails to
comprehend the social possibilities of the freedom of software as a
development strategy for an economy, as an education strategy for a
population, as a reassertion of the public's right to get what it
pays for, in the public servants, whom it employs to think and devise
and to improve the infrastructure of social life.  There is not an
enterprise on earth in the technology industries which fails to
recognize the enormous constructive power of unleashed creativity in
individual people.  This very week, an organization, SUN Microsystems,
which has shown in the past a belief that great software could be made
in secret behind closed doors, has decided to reconsider that
proposition with respect to the most important software asset that it
possesses.  There is not a culture business on earth which is unaware
of the competition in which its distribution arm now finds itself with
freedom as its most dire competitor.

Once upon a time that this was a political movement for freedom was a
secret.  I knew it.  Stallman knew it.  You knew it.  It's not a
secret anymore.  Everybody knows it now.  What we are struggeling for
is clear.  There are days of course upon which we prefer not to say it
too loudly.  We are engaged in negotiations, quiet please.  We are
respectable today.  We are wearing suit.  But we have not forgotten
what we meant to do.  We meant to make freedom and we are making it.

This puts us---happily in my case, I hope happily in yours---in
contention with power.  Some of that power is the power of monopoly.
It is Mr. Gates and his billions.  Some of it is contention with
habit.  It takes a lot of trouble to get people to change the word
processing program that they use.  [Applause] Some of it is contention
over principle: is it free when it is "freedom from", or is it free
when it is "freedom to?"  Which words should we use?  We struggle with
one another as the movement for freedom of thought always does.  We
are divided internally over phraseology.  We sing slightly different
versions of the same song to slightly different music.  And it's
dissonant and it jars us.  The contention is good.  The struggle for
freedom of thought is a struggle.  It has, I regret to say, even
casualties.  Though the good news for us is that there will be no
guillotines, no blood in the streets, no commune, and no suppression
of the commune.  Because freed of the burden of utopian assumptions,
liberated from the need to dream of what has never been, we are able
to pursue our struggle relentlessly and remorselessly on the basis of
what there already is today and what we with our own hands can make
out of it tomorrow: proof of concept plus running code equals

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