98nov12 – How Big Brother Bill watches Internet users

POSTSCRIPT / November 12, 1998 / Thursday
 
How Big Brother Bill watches Internet users
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

fdp5WANT to watch how Pinoys play patintero on the high seas? Follow the brinkmanship that the Estrada administration is playing in its latest quarrel with China over Mischief Reef some 120 nautical miles off Palawan.

Defense Secretary Orly Mercado went to town days ago warning of China’s “creeping invasion,” showing blowup photos of Chinese building suspicious structures on Mischief (called Panganiban Reef by Filipinos and Meiji Reef by Chinese).

The desolate protrusions, part of the Spratlys group in the South China Sea, are being claimed by the Philippines, China and other neighbors.

But while Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon is playing the quiet diplomatic way of resolving the escalated dispute, Mercado is bellowing warlike statements tending to drag the country into war with the red dragon in the North.

Maybe Siazon and Mercado are just playing the bad cop-good cop routine made famous by Americans. Whatever, we are being drawn into an unnecessary confrontation with China.

* * *

WITHOUT meaning to sound unpatriotic, I dare say that all that fire-breathing braggadocio is too late and too puny to matter. By our usual negligence, we have lost Mischief without the Chinese even firing a shot.

The stark reality is that there’s no way we can wrest Mischief from the Chinese. They have occupied it and continued to expand their structures on it. In such territorial disputes in international waters, occupancy—especially if backed by firepower—is 99 percent of the game.

We have lost Mischief by default—as we will lose other islets we’re claiming in the Spratlys by the same chronic negligence.

What has President Estrada, the sole spokesman of the country in foreign relations, have to say?

* * *

OUR tough-talking Commander-in-Chief has ordered our mosquito fleet to surround the enemy occupying Mischief. Block all entries and exits, he orders.

It’s the perfect cue for a movie on Pinoy patintero on the high seas. Opening scene is a pre-dawn shot near the Navotas fish landing where gaily decorated bancas are assembling to set sail.

Just hope somebody remembers to bring the map, a compass and the all-important baon. That’s adobo wrapped with steamed rice in banana leaves. There’s also Skyflakes, tetrapak juices, mineral water and bags of chichiria.

The band, which has been playing the River Kwai march since midnight, suddenly breaks into a flourish. A Navy patrol boat with Mercado standing Napoleon-like on the prow sputters to the head of the lined-up bancas to the applause of the crowd.

After assuring the crowd that the Virgen de La Naval is with us and that the baon is intact (applause), Admiral Mercado barks the sailing orders with a bullhorn. The fluvial procession finally moves to… saan na nga ba yon?

* * *

INTERNET users and Internet Service Providers in Manila are agog over information that Microsoft god Bill Gates has surreptitiously encrypted into his Windows 98 certain commands that he now uses to track down users of unlicensed Win68 and pirated Microsoft software.

The countless Pinoys using illegal copies of Win98 are now frantically cleaning up, while cursing Gates for such a sneaky procedure. In nearby Singapore, more than 50 such cases of piracy are now being prosecuted.

Technicians say that this is roughly how Microsoft does his sleuthing through Win98:

Whenever you log on to the Internet, during that interval when the password you had typed is being verified, your ISP automatically downloads a sub-registry encrypted hexadecimal file from your Win98 registry.

This sub-registry file contains the serial numbers of your Win98 and other Microsoft software installed. This information is instantly sent electronically to Microsoft for verification. Only Microsoft can decode this encrypted hexadecimal file.

* * *

IF Microsoft verifies that the serial numbers are authentic and that the user is the licensed holder or buyer of the software bearing the serial numbers, it automatically (re)registers those numbers in the user’s name.

But if Microsoft denies the legitimacy of the serial numbers, or if it verifies that the numbers were sold to or are owned by somebody else, it sends a message to the ISP to start the quiet tracking down of the suspected illegal users.

The ISP findings are reportedly sent automatically to Microsoft Singapore, which decides what steps to take.

I’ve asked some ISP technical managers about it and they profess that they have no part in this clandestine operation of Bill Gates, if indeed there’s one ongoing.

The ISPs are what you might call a passive unwitting partner. Win98 simply goes to work as soon as a Win98 user logs on to the Internet through his ISP.

* * *

THIS corner has no independent confirmation of this alleged operation. Somebody there in the States should raise the issue and demand a disclosure from Microsoft.

In fact, this related point should be raised in the federal suits against Microsoft. It may explain why Bill Gates is so insistent on having his Internet software Explorer made an essential component of Win98.

Let the court decide if there is an additional violation by this undisclosed function of Win98. This is assuming the reports we’ve received and relayed here are correct.

Technicians here say that this additional procedural check may explain why some Win98-operated computers logged on to the Internet suddenly slow down.

One advice of technicians to those using or planning to use unlicensed software is to stick to the older Windows 95, whose revised edition (sometimes unofficially referred to as Windows 97) has proved to be reliable anyway.

The full version of the genuine Win98 sells for P10,000-plus in Manila, while the upgrade version (if you already have Win95) costs P5,000-plus. But if you know where to go, for only P400 you can have both the full and the upgrade versions compressed into one compact disc.

* * *

DURING the Marcos regime there was unofficial tolerance here of the copying of books and computer software. One major source of the illegal copies was neighboring Taiwan.

This leniency made accessible to generally poor students many expensive medical and technical books published abroad. The cheap copies, some of them in newsprint, must have helped improve the quality of the learning process.

The same liberal policy made computer software easily available to Filipinos then waking up to the wonders of high technology.

I would dare say that one of the reasons why a great number of Filipinos are computer literate is that expensive software were/are available to them in cheaper pirated versions. (This is not to say that I favor piracy. I don’t.)

* * *

EVEN the Philippine government was a heavy user of pirated software.

When Bill Gates deigned to receive visiting President Ramos in his Chicago redoubt last year, among the things the Microsoft god demanded was for the government’s help in stamping out piracy of software.

Mr. Ramos agreed. He got a condonation of the government’s use of pirated software, which he promised to stop. He was also gifted a special edition of a powerful palm-size computer.

But the most advanced computer hardware and software are useless in the hands of the incompetent.

The Mischief misadventure, for instance, would not have grown to such unmanageable proportions had our officials not been negligent in their use of computer technology at their fingertips.

The Chinese actually informed our embassy in Beijing way back on Oct. 15 that they were going to “repair” their fishermen’s shelter on Mischief. The information was relayed immediately that day to the main office in Manila.

The foreign office claimed to have received the information only 11 days after. Then it took several more days for the papers to be farmed out to the officials concerned, et cetera. Officials blamed a glitch in their computer network.

By the time Mercado learned about it and was going to town with pictures of the reconstruction, the Chinese have further entrenched themselves on the reef. It was too late for angry protests to stop the Chinese.

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