Sunday, March 30, 2003

what's wrong with firewalls?

It's been a long, fun-filled weekend, and my eyelids are a little heavy. Maybe that's why a Freedom to Tinker article from Princeton Professor Edward Felton doesn't seem to make any sense to me. It's entitled Use a Firewall, Go to Jail. It appears to be about potential state laws which exhibit a distinct lack of knowledge of how the internet works. But that couldn't be true. Oh, wait. It could. I must be really tired.

I haven't seen a bill like this from Delaware, but I also haven't checked the legislative updates/announcements since Wednesday. Maybe I should make that a priority tomorrow morning. If a Delaware legislator saw someone from outside the State doing this, and thought it would be a good idea, I'd have to volunteer my time to run spybot or Ad Aware on their computers for them, so that they can see how easy it is for people to load software on their computers that they aren't aware of. And yes, some of that software "phones home" without the computer owner's knowledge either.

I'd also want to point them to some of the personal firewall programs out there that are not only legal and respectable programs, but are also highly recommended, such as Zone Lab's ZoneAlarm, or Norton's Personal firewall, or McAfee's personal firewall. I don't think that States would want to make these lawful and legitimate programs illegal.

Then again, those laws may not mean these particular programs are prohibited. But it's difficult to tell that from the language -- from the Massachusett's proposed law:
"Unlawful access device." Any type of instrument, device, machine, equipment, technology or software which is primarily designed, developed, assembled, manufactured, sold, distributed, possessed, used or offered, promoted or advertised, for the purpose of defeating or circumventing any technology, device or software, or any component or part thereof, used by the provider, owner or licensee of any communication service or of any data, audio or video programs or transmissions, to protect any such communication, data, audio or video services, programs or transmissions from unauthorized receipt, acquisition, interception, access, decryption, disclosure, communication, transmission or re-transmission.
That does sound like it would include as "unlawful" a personal computer connected to the net running a personal firewall, since the sole purpose of running the firewall is to circumvent technology meant to detect the computer's presence.

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