A new generation of computer chip will be unveiled this week,
bringing nifty new audio and video functions to the screens of
America's expanding universe of Internet users.
It will also bring a giant collision of values that are
increasingly at war as the nation's newest form of communication
moves into the social mainstream.
Intel Corp., whose microprocessors power most of the nation's
personal computers, is embedding for the first time an
number in its newest chip.
While the chip promises to enable lots of new multimedia functions
for Internet users, its identification feature gives computers a
of fingerprint that Intel says adds security to online activities,
whether making an online purchase or transferring sensitive personal
data from one computer to another.
But that identification feature also has the makings of a vast
tracking system that could help accumulate data on users as they
travel around the Web, violating their fundamental right to privacy,
So outraged are some privacy advocates that they've launched a
boycott of products containing the new Intel Pentium III chip, the
first such broad-based boycott of a product over the privacy issue.
Just as the ongoing antitrust suit against Microsoft Corp. is
grappling with how to apply age-old rules of fair competition to the
Information Age, the Intel controversy represents a benchmark in the
struggle to apply traditional notions of privacy and security to
same information revolution.
Drawing a historic parallel, computer science professor Lance
Hoffman of George Washington University says traveling the Internet
has been like the early days of the automobile, when people were
unencumbered by the requirements of a drivers license, license
plates, or traffic rules.
Yet developing new procedures for expanding uses of the Internet,
Mr. Hoffman says, is far more sensitive than anything encountered in
Henry Ford's era. That's because one of the primary functions of the
Internet is communication, which is by its very nature personal. And
while the issue once concerned a relatively small group, that is no
longer the case.
"We're seeing the privacy concerns of cyberspace change from
something that affected a relatively small number of people to the
general public," adds Hoffman, director of the university's
Cyberspace Policy Institute.
Spearheading the boycott drive is the Washington-based advocacy
group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
"A lot of people feel they're being forced to make a trade they
don't want to make," says EPIC's Marc Rotenberg. The message to
Internet users from Intel is "enjoy the benefits of Web-based
services, but the admission ticket is your privacy," he says. …