On the Moore's Lore blog Dana Blankenhorn makes the provocative claim that DRM will be useful as a privacy protection measure (Mobile DRM Argument Misses The Point). Dana points out a major issue the world of "always on" raises, that of privacy. When almost everything we do is generating wireless data, such as our blood sugar levels, refrigerator contents, and garden soil moisture levels, we will certainly want to protect much of that information from prying eyes. Dana's response is to promote the use of DRM as a privacy protection measure.
This is not such a good idea for a variety of reasons.
First, it would essentially propertize our privacy. There are a number of major concerns regarding propertizing privacy, especially the fact that it is unlikely to solve many of our problems. Without going into a major critique here, Pam Samuelson has written a good introduction to many of the issues involved: Privacy as Intellectual Property? [PDF].
Second, enabling DRM in everything is far more likely to be privacy corroding. Anonymity would be very difficult to assure when everything is digitally signed and encrypted.
Third, DRM is a technical solution, not a policy or social solution. Dana claims that,
Under DRM the holder of the content has the absolute right to control where it goes, and the conditions under which it is used. Right? Isn't that what you want, when the content is personal, even intimate, knowledge about you, your body, your possessions? Isn't that the very basis of privacy?
But this isn't true. My ability to control information about me has far more to do with my ability to negotiate with those who will have access to information about me then the technical protections I choose. For example, people can choose not to use a grocery store card that tracks their purchases, but that is going to have a significant impact on their wallets (which leaves no choice for many people). I can choose not to enable cookies on my browser (yeah, right). Each of these privacy-protection solutions is technologically impeccable and completely within my theoretical power, but their ability to protect practically non-existent. DRM will not change this.
There is also a strange dissonance in Dana's position. Dana says that, "Once you buy something, whether it's a can of peaches, a microwave, or a song by Nelly, it's yours." However, why wouldn't the same apply when the grocery store "buys" my grocery-shopping habits in return for everyday lower prices? Why wouldn't the grocery store "own" that data? After all, that data was generated with the grocery store, they are partially responsible for generating that data in the first place.
Privacy is an important issue in the "always on" world, and DRM may play some role in the solution with regard to particular problems and specific threat concerns. However, there is simply no reason to believe that DRM should be "baked into the World of Always-On" in order to protect privacy.