Why personal ownership and control over IT is critical for our future!

Many of the arguments that are made against technical measures which revoke control over technology from their owners, transferring them to device manufacturers and/or media companies, are economic arguments. I believe that the owners must remain in control even if protecting these basic ownership rights had negative economic consequences. Even if I could be convinced that the rights of copyright holders were protected, something which I do not believe, I would still be strongly opposed to this abuse of technology.

Far too often people distance themselves from technology, thinking that it is a personal choice that they can give up. I remember when author Susan Crean (Also co-president of the Creators Rights Alliance, the hosts of CopyCamp) was asked at a copyright debate in 2002 what she would do if someone else was controlling her word processor, disallowing her to write what she wanted. She stated she would switch back to a typewriter.

The problem is, more and more of our lives require the use of information technology, and this will only increase over time. The ability to go backwards in time to live before digital technologies becomes less and less practical or possible.

Lawrence Lessig wrote in Code: and other laws of cyberspace about the fact that software, the rules that digital devices obey, acts as a regulator of our lives. It is coming to the point that questions about who and how this software is written will be as important as who and how our laws are written.

An important thought experiment is to ask ourselves if we would be as unconcerned about the question of who controls technology if the technology in question was part of our bodies. This is a question that University of Toronto professor Steve Mann has been trying to get people to think about. What if you had enhanced your eyesight with a wearable camera, or your hearing with a digitally enhanced hearing aid. There is no reason for these digital devices to have the limitations of analog glasses, contacts or hearing aids, with obvious features including the ability to record, share and playback whatever you are sensing.

With these digital sensory devices part of our person, other digital devices would simply digitally communicate with them: a cell phone would be a device which communicates over long distances with other persons, but communicates with you through your personal audio and visual sensory enhancements. While technical measures will be needed to ensure the privacy and other rights of the wearer is protected, this can only be accomplished by ensuring that no third party is ever granted any type of unauthorized access or control.

My wife worked this summer on a project involving sensors from the body being processed through a computer to control a prosthetic arm. There were also reports in the BBC of his type of technology being deployed, with a former US Marine becoming "the first woman in the world to be fitted with a 'bionic' arm that she can control by her thoughts alone". Like the sensory enhancements, it should be painfully obvious that any digitally controlled body parts must be under the control of the person whose body they are attached to.

One of the things that excites me about science fiction is the ability to bring people out of their everyday lives to explore issues without them getting bogged down with their current biases. I have been listening to a podcast by Cory Doctorow of his short story 0wnz0red (For audio see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

This story mixes a real life technology with science fiction technology,. The fictional title is "Honorable Computing", but the real title is Trusted Computing. The critical question is: should the owner of technology be legally and technologically protected in their attempts to know that their technology is under their control, or should the law and technology be configured to assure third parties (whether the government, device manufacturers, media companies, or other special economic or political interests) that the owner is not allowed to be in control.

The story causes us to ask the question: what if we found a way to digitally control aspects of our human bodies currently under the control of our autonomic systems? If finding a cure for cancer or AIDS was as simple as simple as a very good coder writing software to control our bodies, who should be allowed to control that process? This not only opens important questions about who should be in control of "Trusted Computing", but also ethical and moral questions about whether source code must be freely shared or whether it should be hoarded to only allow an elite to enjoy the benefits of this technology.

I hope that other people will explore these ideas. I believe that if adequately explored that they will come to the same conclusion that I have: no matter what the economic or other harm that can be caused to incumbents by allowing the private ownership and control of technology, the costs of revoking personal control of technology far outweigh any theoretical benefits. We should all be working together to ensure that we not only do not legalize or legally protect this remote control (IE: reject the 1996 WIPO treaties, broadcast flags, or attempts to close the "analog hole"), but should be passing laws to criminalize these techniques. I believe that access to or control of technology that is not authorized by the owner needs to be criminalized.

P.S. If you are a Canadian who believes that our rights must be protected, please sign our Petition to protect Information Technology property rights. This is not science fiction, but where past past and current governments have been contemplating laws to outlaw our right to control the technology we own.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

SeatSale: License to Sit

Professor Steve Mann suggested I add a link to his article: SeatSale: License to Sit.

I think everyone will get the point..

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.