Microsoft proposes government licencing of internet access
Is this a case of control without responsibility?
Published 11:14, 11 October 10
The recent proposal by Microsoft's Vice President of Trustworthy Computing to introduce Government licencing of Internet access is both hiliarious and terrifying1.
Aside from the obvious Orwellian overtones of this sort of control and the bureaucratic horrors that one could imagine should the government need to be involved every time someone wants to connect to the Internet, there's another implication of this. It would seem Microsoft are losing confidence in their ability to fix the security problems in their operating systems and applications.
The problem they are trying to address with this proposal is that the security of their software is so poor that it is possible, and profitable, to write exploits of various forms that automatically gain control of huge numbers of machines, distributed around the Internet. These machines in turn can be used to orchestrate further attacks, to send spam, and to hide the identity of those responsible.
The difference between proprietary and Open Source approaches is fundamentally one of control. The Open Source approach is to give that control to the people using the tools, rather than those providing them. Proprietary companies want to retain control for themselves and argue that they can act in the best interests of the users that way. But if they wish us to trust us with that control, they need to justify that trust by taking responsibility for things like security.
It seems that they are now trying to palm off that responsibility onto the government. It's an attractive proposition, of course. Rather than designing secure software they could wash their hands of the consequences and instead have the Government tasked with licencing and revoking access to the Internet on a per-device basis.
Now I'm trying not to turn this into an argument about the security benefits of Open Source software over proprietary software, but it does seem fairly clear that even the proponents of the current ecosystem are struggling to come up withe realistic proposals for how to manage the mess that they've got into without simply passing the buck.
Once again, a proprietary vendor is clearly demonstrating that it wants control without responsibility, and their users have little to bargain with. The Open Source business model protects both the end user from this situation, and the vendors from becoming lazy and making foolish propositions such as this.
1 A slightly more critical take on this can be found here