Devices Will Have Manners, Even If We Don't

Have you heard of DMP? Microsoft is applying for a patent to equip devices with a "Digital Manners Policy," a polite euphemism for a kill switch or jammer in your electronic equipment. It doesn't stop at stopping things like using a flash camera in a museum, either; OnStar is implementing the same sort of device to shut off your car remotely. If you've ever become peeved when someone sitting next to you starts yammering on their cellphone in the movie theater, you've probably wished there was some sort of method to make it impossible. Be careful what you wish for, says Bruce Schneier at Wired; who will decide who's allowed to do what, where, and with what is a very important question.

Once we go down this path -- giving one device authority over other devices -- the security problems start piling up. Who has the authority to limit functionality of my devices, and how do they get that authority? What prevents them from abusing that power? Do I get the ability to override their limitations? In what circumstances, and how? Can they override my override?

How do we prevent this from being abused? Can a burglar, for example, enforce a "no photography" rule and prevent security cameras from working? Can the police enforce the same rule to avoid another Rodney King incident? Do the police get "superuser" devices that cannot be limited, and do they get "supercontroller" devices that can limit anything? How do we ensure that only they get them, and what do we do when the devices inevitably fall into the wrong hands?

That's a lot of questions, Bruce. The short answer to all of them is whatever is the least appealing version will no doubt become the standard, so no thanks to all of it. I'm old-fashioned, I guess; I prefer to just yell at people who are behaving like jerks in public places.

Tags:  CES, Ice, Will, AV, dev, device