Metcalfe's column: Intel, Wave, Novell build Internet ID infrastructure

We too often trust the wrong people, and sometimes the right people too much.

We are slow to admit what we don't know.

But most of all, we are especially enthusiastic about evidence that agrees with whatever we already believe.

We are, in a word, gullible.

And gullible, like irregardless, isn't even a word. It's not in dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster's (http://www.m-w.com), and Microsoft's spelling checker.

So it's credulity that explains why so many people parroted recent complaints by privacy paranoids about Intel's new processor serial numbers.

Privacy paranoids complained that if Intel was allowed to put serial numbers in computers, Big Brother would soon be tracking us on the Net.

Lawyers at the Center for Democracy & Technology joined other professional paranoids in demanding that our Federal Trade Commission stop Intel from this new "unfair trade practice".

When Intel promised to ship chips with their serial numbers turned off, paranoids countered that software could turn them back on. Well, yes, software can turn them back on, but then why are we not worried about all those microphones in our bedrooms?

Do we actually believe telephone microphones aren't routinely turned back on by Big Brother? Have you recently checked whether your bedroom telephone is actually disconnected when you hang it up?

PCs have had serial numbers at least since we installed the first Ethernet cards at Xerox. Those early cards gave every PC in the world a unique 8-bit number. Now, there are more than 100 million Ethernet PCs. Each has a unique software-readable 48-bit serial number. Well, is it 1984 yet?

No, and the building of identity infrastructure continues. Consider how Wave Systems and Novell are working from opposite ends.

Wave Systems (www.wave.com) has been working since 1989 to get encryption-based payment identity systems into PCs. So far, there are no payment meters on client motherboards, but now, thinking it's time, Wave is raising $US50 million to deploy its meters into millions of PCs.

By distributing trusted identity points, which go way beyond Intel processor numbers, Wave lets publishers broadcast encrypted content in bulk for later purchase and decryption, item by item, as needed. This makes it easier for people who create content to distribute and get paid for their private property, and for properly identified customers to buy it.

Novell is working the other end -- the server end of identity infrastructure. It decries today's "identity chaos" -- social security, credit card, and personal identification numbers, ugly user names, passwords -- which are different at each Web site. Instead, Novell promotes centralised user directories.

Novell proposes that identity servers be deployed to authenticate users, authorise access, encrypt data, give users control over their information, and offer graded security.

Future Internet identity infrastructure will have to do something like what Wave proposes for clients and what Novell proposes for servers. And Intel's numbers in processors are a step toward more privacy on the Internet.

See, there are two kinds of privacy on opposite sides of a deep ideological divide. There is the privacy promoted by professional paranoids, who defend anonymity. And there is the privacy promoted by Intel, Wave, and Novell, who defend private property from liberation by the anonymous.

Private property is one of the most powerful engines of economic progress invented this millennium. Let's turn those serial numbers on. Down with anonymity. The Internet suffers from far too much of it.

As a reward for reading this far, I admit that gullible is a word. Did you believe me when I said it wasn't? Have you ever noticed the middle three letters of the word believe?

Internet pundit Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973 and founded 3Com in 1979. Send e-mail to metcalfe@idg.net or visit www.idg.net/metcalfe

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