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Privacy and the BSA

As others have pointed out, WPA is also unlikely to be effective as an antipiracy tool. For example, hackers cracked WPA as soon as the first beta was released. Thus, WPA is potentially more useful as a means of scaring legitimate consumers and businesses into keeping up with vendor license demands. However, when viewed in the historical context of Microsoft's oppressive intellectual property persecution, the WPA raises privacy issues of Orwellian proportions.

This history centers on an organization known as the Business Software Alliance (BSA). Despite the impression it has endeavored to attach to the acronym, the BSA, unlike the FBI or CIA, has no law enforcement or government affiliation. It has been described as purely for-profit "hired muscle" used by major software companies such as Microsoft and others to intimidate honest companies.

As an example, the BSA regularly targets one city at a time with "strong arm" tactics. They send an official-looking letter, which reads like an ultimatum, to various tech companies in the target city. The purpose is to trick honest companies into voluntarily submitting to a software audit. Frequently, the ruse works. The unfortunate company, struck with panic over a full BSA "investigation," self-reports that it cannot find the documentation for all of its software licenses and ends up paying huge sums to the BSA. In fact, the Association of Chartered Certified Accounts in the United Kingdom described the mailing as "heavy-handed and 'questionable.'" It is also very profitable. According to the BSA, more than $75 million in such "fines" has been collected over the last decade.

This city-wide BSA mailing is typically followed by a persistent radio campaign stating that the BSA has "declared war" on the city and warning companies to submit to a voluntary "inspection." In the same commercial, the BSA seems to coax disgruntled ex-employees to retaliate against their hated ex-boss by reporting them for software license violations—which (incredibly) could be all it takes for the BSA to obtain a police escort and search warrant.

After a company is "audited," the BSA assesses a "fine" of up to several hundred thousand dollars. The curious part is that most companies are so scared and bewildered by the whole BSA spectacle that they gladly pay without a word of protest.

Thus, WPA could potentially be abused as a tool for targeting honest individuals and companies. After you install .NET Server, Microsoft suddenly has detailed personal information about your system and IP address. From there it could theoretically be hours before the BSA turns up at your door with the local police and a warrant to conduct a search, although there is no evidence that such a policy exists.

Unfortunately, the BSA often dupes honest law enforcement officers into seeking a warrant. Because BSA "officials" wear suits and ties, and use official-sounding terms, they invariably impress local police enough to get them scrambling. Even when presented with the most flimsy pretext of evidence, the poor law enforcement officer is so overwhelmed by the BSA suits that he feels compelled to go along with the charade.

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