Standards group dumps storage protection proposal

The latest in a line of controversial standard proposals aimed at preventing the copying and unauthorized distribution of protected data stored on removable media devices has been rejected by the technical committee working on the issue.

The members of Technical Committee T13, which is operating under the aegis of the National Committee for Information Technology Standards (NCITS), voted 8-7 against a surprise proposal submitted in February by San Jose-based Phoenix Technologies Ltd. The last-minute proposal was an unexpected alternative to an encryption standard previously put forward by IBM Corp.

IBM and fellow proponents Intel Corp., Matsushita Electronic Components Co. and Toshiba Corp. withdrew their proposal in favor of the one from Phoenix Technologies. Critics had contended that IBM's submission would create difficulties for users who simply wanted to create backup copies of their data.

More Generic Approach

Phoenix Technologies' proposal was said to include a more generic approach to incorporating copy-protection mechanisms into the Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) standard, which dictates the way PCs communicate with hard drives and other peripherals, such as flash memory, Zip drives and DVDs. The approach suggested by Phoenix Technologies would have let manufacturers program up to eight commands, such as privacy or audio/video streaming instructions, into a disk drive.

The vote against, with four abstentions and four no-shows, fell far short of the two-thirds required to pass a proposed standard, according to committee spokeswoman Maryann Karinch.

The T13 panel is responsible for all the ATA-related interface standards used on PCs and mobile computers. Kate McMillan, director of the secretariat at the Washington-based NCITS, said the proposed standard generated "a lot of interest among committee members" because of its versatility.

Critics of both IBM's and Phoenix Technologies' proposals, such as John Gilmore at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, called them a threat to the civil liberties of users and charged that the two approaches would have allowed technology vendors to control what computers could read or copy.

Despite the outcome of the balloting, McMillan said the remainder of the ATA standards that the T13 committee is developing remain on a "steady track toward completion" this summer.

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