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Arizona legislator waters down chip-ban bill

Intel's decision to give users a choice as to whether to turn on a security feature in the forthcoming Pentium III chip is enough to make the lawmaker back off his a proposal to ban the chip in his state.

An Arizona state representative is watering down a legislative proposal that originally intended to ban the upcoming Pentium III chip from his state, and Intel is going to help draft the revision. .

The original bill proposal, which would have banned the sale or manufacture of Pentium III chips and computers in Arizona, came in the wake of the chips controversial "serial number" scheme. Pentium III chips come with a serial number that will allow Web sites in certain circumstances to link a given user with a particular PC. Intel has maintained that the serial number plan exists to bring greater security to online transactions. Privacy advocates, however, believe that the plan will allow third parties to track Pentium III users around the Web.

As revised, the legislation will now only ban the sale or manufacture of chips that use a serial number security plan that additionally do not include methods for protecting individuals from invasions of privacy, according to Steve May, a Republican state representative in Arizona and the sponsor of the proposal.

Intel has already revised its strategy. Now, users won't be able to participate in any "serial" number transactions or communications without first turning on the software to expose the number. As a result, the bill won't affect Pentium III sales.

Intel, in fact, will even work with May on the language of the bill, he said.

"This will allow Intel to continue to produce their Pentium III chips," he said. "They are going to help us to craft the appropriate language to address the customer privacy issues."

Although Intel's serial number strategy generated a substantial amount of criticism, May's proposal did as well. A number of computer users contacted his office to complain about unknown side-effects of the proposal. Sun workstations, among others, come with processors containing serial numbers that are used for identification purposes. Ethernet cards, cellular phones and security tokens also come with serialized chips that can perform similar functions. The proposed legislation, many feared, would ban the sale of these machines in Arizona.

In all likelihood, the proposal also would have faced a number of legal challenges, others said.

The Pentium III will be released toward the end of February. Intel is holding a preview of Pentium III hardware and software on February 17 in San Jose.