War on General Purpose Computers is the difference between utopia and dystopia


My Wired op-ed, How Laws Restricting Tech Actually Expose Us to Greater Harm, warns that we've learned the wrong lesson from the DRM wars: we've legitimized the idea that we can and should design computers to disobey their owners and hide their operations from them in order to solve our problems (and that we should protect this design decision by making it a felony to disclose flaws in devices, lest these flaws be used to jailbreak them).

This was bad enough when it was DVD players that refused to skip ads, but once we extend this model to our autonomous vehicles, medical implants, and home-automation systems, we set up a situation where spies, crooks, cops and snoops can do unlimited harm to us, and where we're not allowed to do anything to protect ourselves.

If those million-eyed, fast-moving, deep-seated computers are designed to obey their owners; if the policy regulating those computers encourages disclosure of flaws, even if they can be exploited by spies, criminals, and cops; if we're allowed to know how they're configured and permitted to reconfigure them without being overridden by a distant party—then we may enter a science fictional world of unparalleled leisure and excitement.

But if the world's governments continue to insist that wiretapping capacity must be built into every computer; if the state of California continues to insist that cell phones have kill switches allowing remote instructions to be executed on your phone that you can't countermand or even know about; if the entertainment industry continues to insist that the general-purpose computer must be neutered so you can't use it to watch TV the wrong way; if the World Wide Web Consortium continues to infect the core standards of the web itself to allow remote control over your computer against your wishes—then we are in deep, deep trouble.

The Internet isn't just the world's most perfect video-on-demand service. It's not simply a better way to get pornography. It's not merely a tool for planning terrorist attacks. Those are only use cases for the net; what the net is, is the nervous system of the 21st century. It's time we started acting like it.

How Laws Restricting Tech Actually Expose Us to Greater Harm

(Image: Matt Dorfman)

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