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Trusted Computing Platform Alliance

The Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA) is an initiative by Intel and others that could allow digital rights management technology into personal computers, removing their ability to act as general-pupose computers and making them into a "trusted computing platform" controlled by the intellectual property of the TCPA members.

Founder members of the TCPA are Compaq, HP, IBM, Intel and Microsoft.

Members of the TCPA represent the initiative as beneficial to the consumer, by allowing them to use their PC as their home entertainment centre, secure in the knowledge that copyright owners are protected against any attempt they might make to make unauthorised copies of that media. Most analysts believe that this initiative like other such initiatives suffers from the problem of not providing any value for the consumer.

The choice of the term "trusted computing" is interesting to note, as in computer security a "trusted system" is one that you are forced to trust, not one that is particularly trustworthy.

Opponents of the TCPA represent it as a movement towards preventing competition in the computer industry, and deleterious to the rights of the individual. They also point out that it represents a threat to free software. A critique of the TCPA can be found in Ross Anderson's paper Security in Open versus Closed Systems - The Dance of Boltzmann, Coase and Moore.

Anderson states that:

"[...] TCPA appears likely to change the ecology of information goods and services markets so as to favour incumbents, penalise challengers, and slow down the pace of innovation and entrepreneurship. It is also likely to squeeze open systems, and may give rise to serious trade disputes between the USA and the EU."

Concern has also been expressed that "trusted computing" devices, since they execute code on behalf of the code signers, rather than their users, may be used as surveillance devices. Whilst it is true that existing computers may be used in this way, if concealed surveillance features are included by the manufacturers of proprietary software, "trusted computing" opens the possiblity that it may become illegal or impossible to obtain "non-trusted" systems that are controlled by their users, if trusted computing becomes the de-facto standard.

One way in which this might happen would be if a sucessful PR and lobbying campaign to label "non-trusted" systems as insecure made it impractical or illegal to connect "non-trusted" systems to the Internet. This would cause the market to "non-trusted" computers to collapse, making "trusted" systems the only form of computers available for general-purpose use.

Microsoft has now announced the Palladium operating system initiative, which is their attempt to present a "trusted computing" solution to the problems of computer insecurity.

The competition concerns above have raised comments that the TCPA initiative may be illegal under antitrust legislation. However, previous events in the computing industry have shown that antitrust laws have not been effective to contain Microsoft's previous behavior.

Intel appears to have announced a project called "LaGrande" which appears to be Intel's part of the TCPA plan.

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