The Right to Read vs Electronic Surveillance.. and E-BooksSomervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


The Right to Read vs Electronic Surveillance.. and E-Books

15 February 2009 at 9:09:41 AM

I enjoy reading. Whether it's reading articles on the internet or getting a book and laying back on the couch in the afternoon, it's a pleasure to do it. Unlike television, where watching and being engaged in a stream is the point, you can read a few paragraphs, get interrupted, walk away, ponder on what you read, and come back to it ,maybe a few minutes, maybe hours or even days later. For example, I'm reading "Family of Secrets" by Russ Baker right now (got through interlibrary loan) -I thought it would be a fairly quick read that I would be done with in a short time, because it's so interesting, but it has so many details that it requires a lot of processing about what is being said. But I like that.

I've also thought off and on for the past couple of years about getting an e-reader for mysefl. I haven't done it because I am not clear on a few things- are most books available in digital format? If they're not, can they be? Since I am now getting books through the library instead of purchasing them, would I be able to borrow a digital book from the library or would that avenue be closed? Would that create a literate class of people who were the ones that could afford to read, because they had the cost of a book? Are the readers themselves tied to a specific ISP? What if the readers have features that would allow control and surveillance? So, I haven't gotten one yet. I'm not even speaking to the features of an e-reader, such as what type of lighting, what size, what controls to turn pages, etc. I do like the idea of a nice reader about the size of a regular sized book (not an oversized book) that would sit in a docking station when not being used, have a long battery life and be easy to get books on to take around... and have some features making them, when they're dropped, or when they fall off the back of the couch where I prop a book, won't shatter to pieces.

Found, via Daily Dish, this morning, some other considerations that make e-books and e-readers challenging. For example, I am a proponent of e-readers in school, especially with the textbook costs and mess, but also because an e-reader would not provide the same level of distraction or obstruction that a class full of students with laptops in front of them would be. I like the idea that, if a change in a textbook comes out, instead of having to purchase a whole bunch of paper books, a school could just update the book on the reader,.... and presumably, because it's digital, at a much cheaper price.

But that does lead to some interesting new dilemmas.

One of those issues is the end, as Daily Dish says, of permanence. Keep the book *1984* in mind as you consider this. If one can update a book without any sort of change log easily accessible to teachers and school administrators, then a book presumably could be altered and the original text gone *down the memory hole*. For collectors of first editions or flawed books to resell, I would imagine this would be henious. What the writer at Urbzen envisions is worse- a system where an ebook is automatically updated without knowing where or why and no way to see what had gone before.

Leaving aside for a moment that the Kindle’s very name is weirdly evocative of book burning, consider that for everything we gain with a Kindle—convenience, selection, immediacy—we’re losing something too. The printed word—physically printed, on paper, in a book—might be heavy, clumsy or out of date, but it also provides a level of permanence and privacy that no digital device will ever be able to match.

In the past, restrictive governments had to ban whole books whose content was deemed too controversial, inflammatory or seditious for the masses. But then at least you knew which books were being banned, and, if you could get your hands on them, see why. Censorship in the age of the Kindle will be more subtle, and much more dangerous.

Consider what might happen if a scholar releases a book on radical Islam exclusively in a digital format. The US government, after reviewing the work, determines that certain passages amount to national security threat, and sends Amazon and the publisher national security letters demanding the offending passages be removed. Now not only will anyone who purchases the book get the new, censored copy, but anyone who had bought the book previously and then syncs their Kindle with Amazon—to buy another book, pay a bill, whatever—will, probably unknowingly, have the old version replaced by the new, “cleaned up” version on their device. The original version was never printed, and now it’s like it didn’t even exist. What’s more, the government now has a list of everyone who downloaded both the old and new versions of the book.

Granted, the comments are a little out there, but I think the point of ensuring that there are safeguards and privacy features built in for ebook readers is essential. Consider The Right to Read

One of the ideas in the story was not proposed in reality until 2002. This is the idea that the FBI and Microsoft will keep the root passwords for your personal computers, and not let you have them.

The proponents of this scheme have given it names such as “trusted computing” and “palladium”. We call it “treacherous computing”, because the effect is to make your computer obey companies instead of you. This was implemented in 2007 as part of Windows Vista; we expect Apple to do something similar. In this scheme, it is the manufacturer that keeps the secret code, but the FBI would have little trouble getting it.

What Microsoft keeps is not exactly a password in the traditional sense; no person ever types it on a terminal. Rather, it is a signature and encryption key that corresponds to a second key stored in your computer. This enables Microsoft, and potentially any web sites that cooperate with Microsoft, the ultimate control over what the user can do on his own computer.

Vista also gives Microsoft additional powers; for instance, Microsoft can forcibly install upgrades, and it can order all machines running Vista to refuse to run a certain device driver. The main purpose of Vista's many restrictions is to make DRM that users can't overcome.

The SPA, which actually stands for Software Publisher's Association, has been replaced in this police-like role by the BSA or Business Software Alliance. It is not, today, an official police force; unofficially, it acts like one. Using methods reminiscent of the erstwhile Soviet Union, it invites people to inform on their coworkers and friends. A BSA terror campaign in Argentina in 2001 made slightly-veiled threats that people sharing software would be raped.

And one more time on the school textbooks. In our state, there's a battle going on by the anti-science people who are on the Texas State Board of Education. Suppose with just a vote, they could alter the books with no previous version available and cut out or change significant passages to reflect other idealogies? There would HAVE to be change control built in, with archived accessibility at any time to the previous versions, by change date and version number

Anyway, the whole idea of e-readers is an interesting one. It's funny how my viewpoint has changed on e-reading since I first started writing about it.

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