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Arizona lawmaker seeks to ban Pentium III

The chip giant's controversial security scheme has moved a state legislator to seek a ban on the sale or manufacture of the forthcoming chip in the Grand Canyon State.

An Arizona state legislator next week will introduce a bill that seeks to ban the sale or manufacture of Pentium III processors in the state because of complaints that a security feature in the chips could threaten personal privacy.

The chips "can't be sold at all" under the proposed bill, said State Rep. Steve May, a Republican who will introduce the bill next week. "We want Intel to wake up and recognize that it needs to be careful with privacy issues."

The bill would ban chips using a serial number identification scheme, as well as computers containing chips with serial numbers. State and government agencies would also be prevented from buying computers or processors containing the serial numbers.

Manufacturing chips with serial numbers would also be illegal, which could have a significant impact on Intel operations in Arizona. The company has two fabrication plants in the state. Intel CEO Craig Barrett also maintains a home there.

"I have a couple of Intel executives in my district," May said, laughing.

Even if passed, however, the bill could face a number of legal challenges, including a challenge that it violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Commercial problems will exist as well. Sun Microsystems, among other workstation vendors, imprints serial numbers on its UltraSparc microprocessors to prevent software piracy, several sources have said. The software is "assigned" to a specific processor at the factory and can't be used on processors with different serial numbers. The Sun antipiracy scheme could fall within the ambit of the Arizona ban and prevent the sale of Sun systems in Arizona.

Workstation users writing to CNET have had a universal negative reaction to the proposed legislation.

"Please follow up on this [bill] every month or so until it passes or dies," said one reader.

The security plan, announced last week, has ignited a firestorm of controversy and pitted Intel against a number of organizations who say the plan will give Intel, or other companies, the power to track people on the Web. The Pentium III will come with a serial number that identifies the specific PC a given person is using. Intel has maintained that the scheme will guard against fraud and make e-commerce more secure. To impersonate a user or break into a person's electronic bank account, for instance, thieves will have to steal the exact computer to gain admission, the company says.

Privacy advocates have said that the plan will take away another layer of anonymity on the Web and make it easier to track their browsing habits. Several groups yesterday proposed a boycott of Intel if the company goes ahead with the plan.

After the boycott was announced, Intel backed down a bit. Under the original plan, software that would permit the serial number to be accessed by a Web server would be turned on, unless turned off by a user. Now, users will have to deliberately turn on the software.

While May believes the company is making an attempt to lessen any negative effects of the announcement, he said that there are going to be drastic, unforeseen consequences. "It is nice that Intel has come to its senses, but what happens two years from now?" he asked. "We have to be very careful."

Intel had no comment yesterday, and executives were unfamiliar with the proposed law. "We will look into it," a spokesman said.

The bill is being drafted for submission on Monday or Tuesday.