Protest grows against ID in Intel's PIII
April 12, 1999
by Jack McCarthy
(IDG) -- Privacy advocates trying to force Intel to change or discontinue the personal identification number function in its Pentium III chip today added arguments to an earlier complaint against Intel with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation added arguments to the original complaint. Privacy groups said Intel's technology can allow computer users' private information to be improperly tracked.
The use of the so-called processor serial number constitutes unfair and deceptive trade practices, the complaint alleges.
"The FTC asked us for clarification of several points of the original complaint and we did," said Ari Schwartz, CDT policy analyst. "We think the FTC should fully investigate these charges."
The privacy issue has raged since January, when Intel announced plans to ship the Pentium III system with a hardware ID number. Intel's release of a software utility that allows users to deactivate the ID feature failed to satisfy privacy groups. Critics say software is hackable and also point out that PC manufacturers who assemble the computers ultimately decide whether to activate the ID number.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is participating in the complaint because its members worry that they could be targeted by hate groups. "Who knows what will happen to that data?" says Loren Javier, interactive media director of the alliance in New York City.
Intel defends feature
Intel continues to defend the ID number, saying the software control will prevent abuse. "The user has the choice to turn it off or choose to turn it on when they want," says Intel representative George Alfs.
Intel has said the ID feature will enhance security for e-commerce. Also, corporate computer managers can keep better track of their systems using the ID numbers, Alfs added.
The new brief offers more detail about how the protestors believe users' privacy is harmed. It says users' expectation of anonymity is lost if they are tracked by their serial number. Important information about personal health care could be made public, and children could be harassed or stalked, the document says.
"The ability to track and monitor individuals presents related risks from those seeking to cause harm -- such as a stalker, harasser, or identity thief, and from those seeking to collect information from individuals without their consent," the brief says.
The privacy groups also say Intel's chip is the only such hardware targeted for commercial use for tracking and identifying computers and individuals.
The FTC does not disclose responses to complaints unless action is taken, says Victoria Streitfeld, an FTC representative. If the agency finds a company engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices, it can negotiate an agreement or go to court, she says.
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