Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

VEIL and the Crippling of the Free Market

By Dennis D. McDonald

I am increasingly respectful of the blogosphere; no wonder competing “main stream media” outlets are occasionally so dismissive.

First we had the release by Halderman and Felten of their masterly dissection of Sony’s DRM rootkit fiasco. Now we have Kathryn Cramer’s exposé of how some media companies are trying to buy off Congress and force consumers to make current technology obsolete by artificially restricting the quality of digital signals fed to certain types of display devices. (Thanks to my friend Martin McKeay for bringing this to my attention on his Network Security Blog.)

This is all being done, of course, to “reduce piracy” by “plugging the analog hole.” While parts of Cramer’s article are pretty technical, what she uncovers looks like an example of media companies trying to legislate what they cannot accomplish in the free marketplace, all in the name of making it more difficult to “leak” high definition video signals onto the Internet.

Notwithstanding the naiveté of trying to forestall what is done by dedicated digital pirates, the secret VEIL technology that proposed legislation references appears designed to restrict how consumers use digital media by forcibly reducing the quality of what is displayed on increasingly popular high definition home display systems.

Let’s think about this for a moment. If special playback platform restrictions on image quality can be legislated, how about, say, restrictions on mentions of politically sensitive topics? Or sexually explicit programming? Or displays of certain types of cartoons that are potentially offensive to certain religious groups?

I am sure there are people in the United States who would gladly use any means available to restrict the types of information or images the rest of us can view or purchase. I fear that success of this “analog hole” legislation will embolden them to take the same types of steps that the Chinese government now employs in its filtering of communications on its Internet. One sad fact is that, unless we are vigilant about protecting our freedoms, they will attempt this by using our own legislative processes — and an increasingly regulated Internet — against us.

And here’s an irony: the very companies whose wares will be restricted and censored may be the very same companies who are now funding the congressional efforts described in Cramer’s article!

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