Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Backward laws around technology ownership make self-driving cars more dangerous

Canadian born science fiction author Cory Doctorow writes many excellent articles which try to wake people up to the real technology debates we should be having, recently discussing self-driving cars.  He makes the appropriate link to what I call "dishonest relationship misinformation" (DRM), which some incorrectly call Digital Rights Management due to a confusion on how technology works (they believe it is the interests of copyright holders being protected, when it is the rights of technology owners being revoked).

I always like to extend the discussion beyond questions about whether owners should be treated as threats to asking why we can't move away from these unethical questions to making the obvious ethical choice.  We never need to treat owners in an unethical (even if temporarily legally protected) way if we clarified who owns what.

If a vehicle is owned by a taxi company or municipal transportation authority, it is obvious that its passengers should not be legally allowed to modify the vehicles software.  There is no moral issue here, and the passengers know they are passengers whether there is a human or computer driver.  If they don't trust the organization providing the transportation, they can change transportation methods and/or lobby government to provide adequate regulation of these industries. Governments can properly regulate these industries to ensure passenger and public safety, just as they always had in other transportation industries such as airlines that have had driving assist for a very long time. These devices can also be more easily secured from unauthorized remote control given there is no reason to try to hide unauthorized software from the devices owner. The law can provide owners incentives to secure this technology, rather than backward laws making it illegal for owners to secure their own technology.  Ownership is clear, security is clear, regulations are clear, and the passenger can clearly understand their relationship with the mode of transportation they have chosen.

If a car is sold to an individual, and yet a third party (whether government or the manufacturer) wants to retain control, then we get into the very dangerous territory that Cory is discussing.  Terrorists breaking into the security of (by law required to be insecure) vehicles and using those remotely controlled vehicles as part of an attack is an obvious scenario for self-driving vehicles.  While we won't be counting the costs in lives lost, this does not mean we should ignore other technology.   The devices we use to communicate must also be treated with respect, even when they are multi-purpose and can be used for banking transactions as well as watch movies.  The same clear ownership options exist with communications as well as transportation technology.

What the entertainment industry has been duped into asking for, the legal protection of device manufacturers retaining control over devices sold to individuals, has established costs to society that go well beyond the theoretical (and unproven, un-demonstrated) benefits that copyright holders believe it has.

I consider the moral question to be simple:  We must modernize laws to make it clearly illegal for someone other than the owner of a device to be in control of that device.

Whenever someone asks for something different you should be asking about the morality of that individual or industry given they had a moral choice to make, and yet decided to be promoting the immoral option.  There are reasons why the entertainment industry was lobbying against anti-malware lawsThose industries want to run software in a way that is undetected by the owner of the device in order to verify that their content is not being "stolen".  But, this is precisely what malware does when it it steals passwords.  There is no moral difference between the entertainment industry malware from that written by credit card thieves.

I discussed these pro-infringement organizations in my submission to the parliamentary committee studying Bill C-11

Only once we modernize the law to properly handle basic technology ownership can we rationally approach dilemmas such as the Trolley Problem.

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