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
"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.