More support for Pentium III complaint

Several privacy advocacy groups supplement an earlier complaint filed with the FTC challenging a controversial serial number in Intel's Pentium III.

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A controversial serial number in Intel's latest chip will erode privacy on the Web, harming users' ability to access sensitive information and making them vulnerable to unscrupulous snoops, several advocacy groups told the Federal Trade Commission today.

In a brief supplementing a complaint filed earlier with the FTC, the groups argued that the Pentium III feature, known as PSN or processor serial number, will change the Internet as it exists today.

"The PSN?has the potential to transform the World Wide Web from a largely anonymous environment into one where individuals are expected, or even required, to identify themselves in order to participate in online activities, communicate, and make purchases," the brief argued. "This is a far cry from the world we live in today--either offline or online--and would represent a grave erosion of consumers' online privacy."

The brief was filed by the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and Consumer Action. The CDT in February filed a formal complaint against Intel over the serial numbers, which are hardwired into every Pentium III sold. At a hearing a few weeks later, FTC officials asked for a follow-up brief spelling out exactly what harms the serial number posed.

Representatives from the FTC were not immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman recently said the agency was "actively considering" the complaint. Intel had no comment on the matter.

In the past, Intel has said it designed the PSN to allow administrators to track PCs across vast networks and to provide online merchants and shoppers with an extra layer of security. Amid pressure from privacy advocates, the world's largest chip maker began shipping the chips with the feature deactivated, requiring users to actively turn it on in order it to work.

But privacy advocates remain opposed to the PSN, casting it as a tool for snoops who want to keep track of computer users online. The groups are seeking an order requiring Intel to pull the feature.

According to the brief, the serial number will make it easier for stalkers to harass children and teens, and it will have a chilling effect on the free flow of certain types of sensitive information, including that dealing with sex and AIDS. The technology, which is susceptible to being "forged" by unscrupulous third parties, also will make users vulnerable to "online identity theft," the brief contends.