December 16, 2008

Claiming One's Life Repository

Justin Katz

We should all hope that Capitol Records fails in its efforts to claim a Providence family's computer for inspection, but as the breadth of activities occurring on computers expands, the likelihood goes up that they will become subject to confiscation for one reason or another. In that light, even just the circumstances of the threat are disconcerting:

The company has asked the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island to compel his parents, Judith and Arthur Tenenbaum, to turn over the family computer so experts can inspect it.

Judith Tenenbaum said before proceedings were to begin yesterday that the family disposed of the computer her son used as a teen years ago.

"That was two computers ago," she said. She is reluctant to turn over her current computer, she said, because it contains personal information.

This over seven songs downloaded when a doctoral student was in high school. Think of the potential for pretext when a small amount of questionable data processed by a computer (let alone previous computers owned by the same family) becomes an excuse for outside access to machines used for everything from private communications to personal finances to business back-office work.

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"What we’re seeking is a computer that is relevant to the case,” said Daniel J. Cloherty, a Boston lawyer representing the music company.

I see from that comment that Capitol's lawyer is as computer unsavvy as his clients. The kid is now 24 and this downloading likely happened more than 6-7 years ago. That is twice the economic life of a computer and is well into the period where a significant percentage of disk drive failures based on MBTF will have happened. Further, today, its as likely that any downloading might go directly to a flash drive as an internal drive. Big Music has in the past tried to control downloads by attempting to get rules requiring protection schemes be built into hard drives of any type. As someone whose engineering workstation has 2 terabytes of storage, I can't afford any unnecessary overhead on IO - fortunately that little provision was scuppered. Recent history has shown that these protection schemes are often defeated in short order, inconveniencing the innocent and accomplishing nothing else. I would feel more sympathy for Big Music if they weren't so high handed and they didn't seek such draconian penalties.

I hope that the magistrate invites them to visit the landfill to acquire the computer. They need to understand that timeliness is a virtue and a necessity. You might as well complain about a two week old piece of fresh fish as a 6 to 7 year old computer.

Posted by: chuckR at December 16, 2008 6:14 PM

We need to bring privacy laws in line with the new technologies that have totally left old laws in the dust. I agree with you that allowing a search that you described should strike us as an invasion of privacy.
The music industry was and is really behind the curve on music downloads and sharing. They could have been an intregal part of it and probably figured out how to profit.

Posted by: David at December 17, 2008 4:10 PM
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