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Microsoft and the Alliance deny that their systems would restrict the kind of software or documents computer owners could use on their machines, and they emphasize that their only goal is to protect users’ data. They also dismiss claims by critics who say the systems could be used for invasive procedures such as remote deletion of files. “The notes that I’ve seen posted on the Web, I think, were pretty far-fetched and many of them impossible,” says Clain Anderson, director of security solutions for IBM’s PC division.

England at Microsoft, Meinschein at Intel, and Anderson at IBM all acknowledge, however, that the security chips will make digital rights management far more effective by allowing software makers and providers of online content including music, movies, and books to put more elaborate restrictions on the way computer owners use data. An operating system with a special security chip “could implement policy on top of it that users may like or that users may not like,” says Meinschein.

The decision to buy a PC with such a security chip and even whether to enable the chip, however, will still belong to consumers, Meinschein notes. “We’ve taken, I think, the necessary initial steps to try to ensure that these technologies can be used in reasonable ways and that users have control of their privacy and of the device. But some of this is frankly going to be evolution, and we as users and as a community, we’re going to have to work through this.” Computer owners, in other words, will have to decide whether they really trust the good guys more than they fear the bad guys.

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