[opendtv] Analog Hole Bill Would Impose a Secret Law

  • From: Monty Solomon <monty@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: undisclosed-recipient: ;
  • Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2006 08:27:51 -0500

Analog Hole Bill Would Impose a Secret Law
Monday January 23, 2006 by Ed Felten

If you've been reading here lately, you know that I'm no fan of the 
Sensenbrenner/Conyers analog hole bill. The bill would require almost 
all analog video devices to implement two technologies called CGMS-A 
and VEIL. CGMS-A is reasonably well known, but the VEIL content 
protection technology is relatively new. I wanted to learn more about 

So I emailed the company that sells VEIL and asked for a copy of the 
specification. I figured I would be able to get it. After all, the 
bill would make compliance with the VEIL spec mandatory - the spec 
would in effect be part of the law. Surely, I thought, they're not 
proposing passing a secret law. Surely they're not going to say that 
the citizenry isn't allowed to know what's in the law that Congress 
is considering. We're talking about television here, not national 

After some discussion, the company helpfully explained that I could 
get the spec, if I first signed their license agreement. The 
agreement requires me (a) to pay them $10,000, and (b) to promise not 
to talk to anybody about what is in the spec. In other words, I can 
know the contents of the bill Congress is debating, but only if I pay 
$10k to a private party, and only if I promise not to tell anybody 
what is in the bill or engage in public debate about it.

Worse yet, this license covers only half of the technology: the VEIL 
decoder, which detects VEIL signals. There is no way you or I can 
find out about the encoder technology that puts VEIL signals into 

The details of this technology are important for evaluating this 
bill. How much would the proposed law increase the cost of 
televisions? How much would it limit the future development of TV 
technology? How likely is the technology to mistakenly block 
authorized copying? How adaptable is the technology to the future? 
All of these questions are important in debating the bill. And none 
of them can be answered if the technology part of the bill is secret.

Which brings us to the most interesting question of all: Are the 
members of Congress themselves, and their staffers, allowed to see 
the spec and talk about it openly? Are they allowed to consult 
experts for advice? Or are the full contents of this bill secret even 
from the lawmakers who are considering it?

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