New paper on Wi-Fi positioning systems

Regular readers will have come across (or participated in shaping) some of my work over the last year as I looked at the different ways that device identity and personal identity collide in mobile location technology.

In the early days following Google&#39s Street View WiFi snooping escapades, I became increasingly frustrated that public and official attention centered on Google&#39s apparently accidental collection of unencrypted network traffic when there was a much worse problem staring us in the face.

Unfortunately the deeper problem was also immensely harder to grasp since it required both a technical knowledge of networked devices and a willingness to consider totally unpredicted ways of using (or misusing) information.

As became clear from a number of the conversations with other bloggers, even many highly technical people didn&#39t understand some pretty basic things – like the fact that personal device identifiers travel in the clear on encrypted WiFi networks… Nor was it natural for many in our community to think things through from the perspective of privacy threat analysis.

This got me to look at the issues even more closely, and I summarized my thinking at PII 2010 in Seattle.

A few months ago I ran into Dr. Ann Cavoukian, the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, who was working on the same issues.  We decided to collaborate on a very in-depth look at both the technology and policy implications, aiming to produce a document that could be understood by those in the policy community and still serve as a call to the technical community to deal appropriately with the identity issues, seeking what Ann calls “win-win” solutions that favor both privacy and innovation.

Ann&#39s team deserves all the credit for the thorough literature research and clear exposition.  Ann expertly describes the policy issues and urges us as technologists to adopt Privacy By Design principles for our work. I appreciate having had the opportunity to collaborate with such an innovative group.  Their efforts give me confidence that even difficult technical issues with social implications can be debated and decided by the people they affect.

Please read WiFi Positioning Systems: Beware of Unintended Consequences and let us know what you think – I invite you to comment (or tweet or email me) on the technical, policy and privacy-by-design aspects of the paper.

Privacy Bill of Rights establishes device identifiers as PII

In my view the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights drafted by US Senators McCain and Kerry would significantly strengthen the identify fabric of the Internet through its proposal that “a unique persistent identifier associated with an individual or a networked device used by such an individual” must be treated as personally identifiable information (Section 3 – 4 – vii).   This clear and central statement marks a real step forward.  Amongst other things, it covers the MAC addresses of wireless devices and the serial numbers and random identifiers of mobile phones and laptops.

From this fact alone the bill could play a key role in limiting a number of the most privacy-invasive practices used today by Internet services – including location-based services.  For example, a company like Apple could no longer glibly claim, as it does in its current iTunes privacy policy, that device identifiers and location information are “not personally identifying”.  Nor could it profess, as iTunes also currently does, that this means it can “collect, use, transfer, and disclose”  the information “for any purpose”.  Putting location information under the firm control of users is a key legislative requirement addressed by the bill.

The bill also contributes both to the security of the Internet and to individual privacy by unambiguously embracing “Minimal Disclosure for a Constrained Use” as set out in Law 2 of the Laws of Identity.  Title III explicitly establishes a “Right to Purpose Specification; Data Minimization; Constraints on Distribution; and Data Integrity.”

Despite these real positives, the bill as currently formulated leaves me eager to consult a bevy of lawyers – not a good sign.  This may be because it is still a “working draft”, with numerous provisions that must be clarified. 

For example, how would the population at large ever understand the byzantine interlocking of opt-in and opt-out clauses described in Section 202?  At this point, I don&#39t.

And what does the list of exceptions to Unauthorized Use in Section 3 paragraph 8 imply?  Does it mean such uses can be made without notice and consent?

I&#39ll be looking for comments by legal and policy experts.  Already, EPIC has expressed both support and reservations:

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) have introduced the “Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011,” aimed at protecting consumers’ privacy both online and offline. The Bill endorses several “Fair Information Practices,” gives consumers the ability to opt-out of data disclosures to third-parties, and restricts the sharing of sensitive information.

But the Bill does not allow for a private right of action, preempts better state privacy laws, and includes a “Safe Harbor” arrangement that exempts companies from significant privacy requirements.

EPIC has supported privacy laws that provide meaningful enforcement, limit the ability of companies’ to exploit loopholes for behavioral targeting, and ensure that the Federal Trade Commission can investigate and prosecute unfair and deceptive trade practices, as it did with Google Buzz. For more information, see EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Profiling and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.

Broken Laws of Identity lead to system&#39s destruction

Britain&#39s Home Office has posted a remarkable video, showing Immigration Minister Damian Green methodically pulverizing the disk drives that once held the centralized database that was to be connected to the British ID Cards introduced by Tony Blair.  

“What we&#39re doing today is CRUSHING, the final remnants of the national identity card scheme – the disks and hard drives that held the information on the national identity register have been wiped and they&#39re crushed and reduced to bits of metal so everyone can be absolutely sure that the identity scheme is absolutely dead and buried.

“This whole experiment of trying to collect huge amounts of private information on everyone in this country – and collecting on the central database – is no more, and it&#39s a first step towards a wider agenda of freedom.  We&#39re publishing the protection of freedoms bill as well, and what this shows is that we want to rebalance the security and freedom of the citizen.  We think that previously we have not had enough emphasis on peoples’ individual freedom and privacy, and we&#39re determined to restore the proper balance on that.”

Readers of Identityblog will recall that the British scheme was exceptional in breaking so many of the Laws of Identity at once.  It flouted the first law – User control and Consent – since citizen participation was mandatory.  It broke the second – Minimal Disclosure for a Constrained Use – since it followed the premise that as much information as possible should be assembled in a central location for whatever uses might arise…  The third law of Justifiable Parties was not addressed given the centralized architecture of the system, in which all departments would have made queries and posted updates to the same database and access could have been extended at the flick of a wrist.  And the fourth law of “Directed Identity” was a clear non-goal, since the whole idea was to use a single identifier to unify all possible information.

Over time opposition to the scheme began to grow and became widespread, even though the Blair and Brown governments claimed their polls showed majority support.  Many well-known technologists and privacy advocates attempted to convince them to consider privacy enhancing technologies and architectures that would be less vulnerable to security and privacy meltdown – but without success.  Beyond the scheme&#39s many technical deficiencies, the social fracturing it created eventually assured its irrelevance as a foundational element for the digital future.

Many say the scheme was an important issue in the last British election.  It certainly appears the change in government has left the ID card scheme in the dust, with politicians of all stripes eager to distance themselves from it.  Damian Green, who worked in television and understands it, does a masterful job of showing what his views are.  His video posted by the Home Office, seems iconic.

All in all, the fate of the British ID Card and centralized database scheme is exactly what was predicted by the Laws of Identity:

Those of us who work on or with identity systems need to obey the Laws of Identity.  Otherwise, we create a wake of reinforcing side-effects that eventually undermine all resulting technology.  The result is similar to what would happen if civil engineers were to flount the law of gravity.  By following the Laws we can build a unifying identity metasystem that is universally accepted and enduring.

[Thanks to Jerry Fishenden (here and here) for twittering Damian Green&#39s video]

The Clay Feet of Giants?

Over at Craig Burton, the marketing guru who put Netware on the map and later formed the Burton Group with Jamie Lewis lets loose with a passionate fury that couldn&#39t care less about who has deployed what:

It’s been a week since Microsoft announced that it was never going to release the next version of CardSpace. The laughable part of the announcement is the title “Beyond Windows CardSpace” which would leave you to believe that Microsoft has somehow come up with a better architecture.

In fact Microsoft announced its discontinued development of CardSpace with absolutely no alternative.

Just further evidence of just how irrelevant Microsoft has become.

The news that Microsoft had abandoned CardSpace development is not news to those of us who watch this space, Microsoft hasn’t done Jack with CardSpace for over two years.

It’s just that for some reason Microsoft PR decided to announce the matter. Probably so the U-Prove group could get more press.

Well, that&#39s a bit harsh. Identity selectors like CardSpace only make sense in the context of the other components of the Identity Metasystem – and Microsoft has done a lot over the last two years to deliver those components to customers who are doing successful deployments on a massive scale all over the world.  I don&#39t think that&#39s irrelevant, Craig.

Beyond that, I think Craig should look more closely at what the U-Prove agent actually does (I&#39ll help by putting up a video). As I said here, the U-Prove agent doesn&#39t do what CardSpace did. And the problems CardSpace addressed DO remain tremendously important.  But while more tightly scoped, for the crucial scenario of sensitive claims that are privacy protected the U-Prove agent does go beyond CardSpace.  Further, protecting privacy within the Identity Metasystem will turn out, historically, to be absolutely relevant.  So let&#39s not hit on U-Prove.

Instead, let&#39s tune in to Craig&#39s “Little History” of the Identity Metasystem:

In early 2006, Kim Cameron rolled out the Laws of Identity in his blog. Over next few months as he rolled out each law, the impact of this powerful vision culminating in the release of the CardSpace architecture and Microsoft’s licensing policy rocked the identity community.

Two years earlier Microsoft was handed its head when it tried to shove the Passport identity initiative down our throats.

Kim Cameron turned around and proposed and delivered an Identity Metasystem—based on CardSpace—that has no peer. Thus the Identity Metasystem is the industry initiative to create open selector-based digital identity framework. CardSpace is Microsoft’s instantiation of that Metasystem. The Pamela Project, XMLDAP, Higgins Project, the Bandit Project, and openinfocard are all instantiations in various stages of single and multiple vendor versions of the Identity Metasystem.

Let me clear. The Identity Metasystem has no peer.

Anything less than a open identity selector system for claims-based digital identity is simply a step backwards from the Identity Metasystem.

Thus SAML, OpenID, OAuth, Facebook Connect and so on are useful, but are giant steps back in time and design when compared to the Identity Metasystem.

I agree that the Identity Metasystem is as important as Craig describes it, and that to reach its potential it MUST have user agents. I further agree that the identity selector is the key component for making the system user centric. But I also think adoption is, ah, essential… We need to work out a kink or two or three. This is a hard problem and what we&#39ve done so far hasn&#39t worked.

Be this as it may, back at Craig&#39s site he marches on in rare form, dissecting Vendor Speak as he goes.  Mustering more than a few thrusts and parries (I have elided the juicier ones), he concludes:

This means there is an opening for someone or some group with a bit of vision and leadership to take up the task…

But mark my words, we WILL have a selector-based identity layer for the Internet in the future. All Internet devices will have a selector or a selector proxy for digital identity purposes.

I&#39m glad to finally see this reference to actual adoption, and now am just waiting for more discussion about how we could actually evolve our proposals to get this to happen.

 

A Privacy Bill of Rights proposed for the US

The continuing deterioration of privacy and multi-party security due to short-sighted and unsustainable practices within our industry has begun to have the inevitable result, as reported by this article in the New York TImes.

A Commerce Department task force called for the creation of a ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’ for online consumers and the establishment of an office within the department that would work to strengthen privacy policies in the United States and coordinate initiatives with other countries.

The department’s Internet Policy Task Force, in a report released on Thursday, said the “Privacy Bill of Rights” would increase transparency on how user information was collected online, place limits on the use of consumer data by companies and promote the use of audits and other forms of enforcement to increase accountability.

The new protections would expand on the framework of Fair Information Practice Principles that address data security, notice and choice — or the privacy policies many users agree to on Web sites — and rights to obtaining information on the Internet.

The simple concept of notice and choice is not adequate as a basis for privacy protections,” said Daniel J. Weitzner, the associate administrator for the office of policy analysis and development at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration [emphasis mine – Kim].

The article makes the connection to the Federal Trade Commission&#39s “Do Not Track” proposal:

The F.T.C., in its report on online privacy this month, also called for improvements to the practice principles, but focused on installing a “do not track” mechanism that would allow computer users to opt out of having their information collected surreptitiously by third-party companies.

That recommendation caused concern in the online advertising industry, which has said that such a mechanism would hamper the industry’s growth and could potentially limit users’ access to free content online.

[The prospect of an online advertising industry deprived of its ability to surreptitiously collect information on us causes tears to well in my eyes.  I can&#39t continue!  I need a Kleenex!]

The proposed Privacy Policy Office would work with the administration, the F.T.C. and other agencies on issues surrounding international and commercial data privacy issues but would not have enforcement authority.

“America needs a robust privacy framework that preserves consumer trust in the evolving Internet economy while ensuring the Web remains a platform for innovation, jobs and economic growth,” the commerce secretary, Gary F. Locke, said in a statement. “Self-regulation without stronger enforcement is not enough. Consumers must trust the Internet in order for businesses to succeed online.”

All of this is, in my view, just an initial reaction to behaviors that are seriously out of control.  As information leakage goes, the surreptitious collection of information” to which the NYT refers is done at a scale that dwarfs Wiki Leaks, even if the subjects of the information are mere citizens rather than lofty officials of government.

I will personally be delighted when it is enshrined in law that a company can no longer get you to click on a privacy policy like this one and claim it is consent to sell your location to anyone it pleases.

Nice twitter

I had a tiny and unobtrusive little “privacy experience” today with Twitter that gives the lie to the idea that privacy makes things complicated and unruly.

Someone had tried to locate me using my email address. My privacy settings did not allow this (not sure if it was because Twitter&#39s privacy policy had changed or because of my initial choices). No matter, Twitter sent me a one-sentence email that explained the situation, and when I clicked on the link allowed me to change my options with a single button press. End of story.

The whole process was low friction and – being tied to someone&#39s attempt to get in touch with me – had a “pay-as-you-go” appeal. This wasn&#39t some indigestible abstract policy – and I wasn&#39t being misled by burying information on page 37 of a legal statement.  The whole UI experience made it clear that policy settings can be tied into their context in a way that is helpful and unobtrusive.

Blizzard backtracks on real-names policy

A few days ago I mentioned the outcry when Blizzard, publisher of the World of Warcraft (WoW) multi-player Internet game, decided to make gamers reveal their offline identities and identifiers within their fantasy gaming context. 

I also descibed Blizzard&#39s move as being the “kookiest” flaunting yet of the Fourth Law of Identity (Contextual separation through unidirectional identifiers). 

Today the news is all about Blizzard&#39s first step back from the mistaken plan that appears to have completely misunderstood its own community.

CEO Mike Morhaime  seems to be on the right track with the first part of his message:

“I&#39d like to take some time to speak with all of you regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games. We&#39ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you&#39ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we&#39ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

“It&#39s important to note that we still remain committed to improving our forums. Our efforts are driven 100% by the desire to find ways to make our community areas more welcoming for players and encourage more constructive conversations about our games. We will still move forward with new forum features such as the ability to rate posts up or down, post highlighting based on rating, improved search functionality, and more. However, when we launch the new StarCraft II forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your StarCraft II Battle.net character name + character code, not your real name. The upgraded World of Warcraft forums with these new features will launch close to the release of Cataclysm, and also will not require your real name.”

Then he goes weird again.  He seems to have a fantasy of his own:  that he is running Facebook…

“I want to make sure it&#39s clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II. We believe that the powerful communications functionality enabled by Real ID, such as cross-game and cross-realm chat, make Battle.net a great place for players to stay connected to real-life friends and family while playing Blizzard games. And of course, you&#39ll still be able to keep your relationships at the anonymous, character level if you so choose when you communicate with other players in game. Over time, we will continue to evolve Real ID on Battle.net to add new and exciting functionality within our games for players who decide to use the feature.”

Don&#39t get me wrong.  As convoluted as this thinking is, it&#39s one big step forward (after two giant steps backward) to make linking of offline identity to gaming identity “optional”. 

And who knows?  Maybe Mike Morhaime really does understand his users…  He may be right that lots of gamers are totally excited at the prospect of their parents, lovers and children joining Battle.net to stay connected with them while they are playing WoW!  Facebook doesn&#39t stand a chance!

 

How to anger your most loyal supporters

The gaming world is seething after what is seen as an egregious assault on privacy by World of Warcraft (WoW), one of the most successful multiplayer role-playing games yet devised.  The issue?  Whereas players used to know each other through their WoW “handles”, the company is now introducing a system called “RealID” that forces players to reveal their offline identities within the game&#39s fantasy context.  Commentators think the company wanted to turn its user base into a new social network.  Judging from the massive hullabaloo amongst even its most loyal supporters, the concept may be doomed.

To get an idea of the dimensions of the backlash just type “WoW RealID” into a search engine.  You&#39ll hit paydirt:

The RealID feature is probably the kookiest example yet of breaking the Fourth Law of Identity – the law of Directed Identity.   This law articulates the requirement to scope digital identifiers to the context in which they are used.  In particular, it explains why universal identifiers should not be used where a person&#39s relationship is to a specific context.  The law arises from the need for “contextual separation” – the right of individuals to participate in multiple contexts without those contexts being linkable unless the individual wants them to be.

The company seems to have initially inflicted Real ID onto everyone, and then backed off by describing the lack of “opt-in” as a “security flaw”, according to this official post on wow.com:

To be clear, everyone who does not have a parentally controlled account has in fact opted into Real ID, due to a security flaw. Addons have access to the name on your account right now. So you need to be very careful about what addons you download — make sure they are reputable. In order to actually opt out, you need to set up parental controls on your account. This is not an easy task. Previous to the Battle.net merge, you could just go to a page and set them up. Done. Now, you must set up an account as one that is under parental control. Once your account is that of a child&#39s (a several-step process), your settings default to Real ID-disabled. Any Real ID friends you have will no longer be friends. In order to enable it, you need to check the Enable Real ID box.

 Clearly there are security problems that emerge from squishing identifiers together and breaking cross-context separation.  Mary Landsman has a great post on her Antivirus Software Blog called “WoW Real ID: A Really Bad Idea“:

Here are a couple of snippets about the new Battle.net Real ID program:

“…when you click on one of your Real ID friends, you will be able to see the names of his or her other Real ID friends, even if you are not Real ID friends with those players yourself.”

“…your mutual Real ID friends, as well as their Real ID friends, will be able to see your first and last name (the name registered to the Battle.net account).”

“…Real ID friends will see detailed Rich Presence information (what character the Real ID friend is playing, what they are doing within that game, etc.) and will be able to view and send Broadcast messages to other Real ID friends.”

And this is all cross-game, cross-realm, and cross-alts. Just what already heavily targeted players need, right? A merge of WoW/Battle.net/StarCraft with Facebook-style social networking? Facepalm might have been a better term to describe Real ID given its potential for scams. Especially since Blizzard rolled out the change without any provision to protect minors whatsoever:

Will parents be able to manage whether their children are able to use Real ID?
We plan to update our Parental Controls with tools that will allow parents to manage their children&#39s use of Real ID. We&#39ll have more details to share in the future.

Nice. So some time in the future, Blizzard might start looking at considering security seriously. In the meantime, the unmanaged Real ID program makes it even easier for scammers to socially engineer players AND it adds potential stalking to the list of concerns. With no provision to protect minors whatsoever.

Thanks, Blizz…Not!

And Kyth has a must-read post at stratfu called Deeply Disappointed with the ‘RealID’ System where he explains how RealID should have been done.  His ideas are a great implementation of the Fourth Law.

Using an alias would be fine, especially if the games are integrated in such a way that you could pull up a list of a single Battle.net account&#39s WoW/D3 characters and SC2 profiles. Here is how the system should work:

  • You have a Battle.net account. The overall account has a RealID Handle. This Handle defaults to being your real name, but you can easily change it (talking single-click retard easy here) to anything you desire. Mine would be [WGA]Kazanir, just like my Steam handle is.
  • Each of your games is attached to your Battle.net account and thereby to your RealID. Your RealID friends can see you when you are online in any of those games and message you cross-game, as well as seeing a list of your characters or individual game profiles. Your displayed RealID is the handle described above.
  • Each game contains either a profile (SC2) or a list of characters. A list of any profiles or characters attached to your Battle.net account would be easily accessible from your account management screen. Any of these characters can be “opted out” of your RealID by unchecking them from the list. Thus, my list might look like this:

    X Kazanir.wga – SC2 ProfileX Kazanir – WoW – 80 Druid Mal&#39ganisX Gidgiddoni – WoW – 60 Warrior Mal&#39ganis_ Kazbank – WoW – 2 Hunter Mal&#39ganisX Kazabarb – D3 – 97 Barbarian US East_ Kazahidden – D3 – 45 Monk US West

    In this way I can play on characters (such as a bank alt or a secret D3 character with my e-girlfriend) without forcibly having their identity broadcast to my friends.When I am online on any of the characters I have unchecked, my RealID friends will be able to message me but those characters will not be visible even to RealID friends. The messages will merely appear to come from my RealID and the “which character is he on” information will not be available.

  • Finally, the RealID messenger implementation in every game should be able to hide my presence from view just like any instant messenger application can right now. I shouldn&#39t be forced to be present with my RealID just because I am playing a game — there should be a universal “pretend to not be online” button available in every Battle.net enabled game.

These are the most basic functionality requirements that should be implemented by anyone with an IQ over 80 who designs a system like this.

Check out the comments in response to his post.  I would have to call his really sensible and informed proposal “wildly popular”.  It will be really interesting to see how this terrible blunder by such a creative company will end up.

 [Thanks to Joe Long for heads up]

“Microsoft Accuses Apple, Google of Attempted Privacy Murder”

Ms. Smith at Network World made it to the home page of digg.com yesterday when she reported on my concerns about the collection and release of information related to people&#39s movements and location. 

I want to set the record straight about one thing: the headline.  It&#39s not that I object to the term “attempted privacy murder” – it pretty much sums things up. The issue is just that I speak as Kim Cameron – a person, not a corporation.  I&#39m not in marketing or public releations – I&#39m a technologist who has come to understand that we must  all work together to ensure people are able to trust their digital environment.  The ideas I present here are the same ones I apply liberally in my day job, but this is a personal blog.

Ms. Smith is as precise as she is concise:

A Microsoft identity guru bit Apple and smacked Google over mobile privacy policies. Once upon a time, before working for Microsoft, this same man took MS to task for breaking the Laws of Identity.

Kim Cameron, Microsoft&#39s Chief Identity Architect in the Identity and Security Division, said of Apple, “If privacy isn’t dead, Apple is now amongst those trying to bury it alive.”

What prompted this was when Cameron visited the Apple App store to download a new iPhone application. When he discovered Apple had updated its privacy policy, he read all 45 pages on his iPhone. Page 37 lets Apple users know:

Collection and Use of Non-Personal Information

We also collect non-personal information – data in a form that does not permit direct association with any specific individual. We may collect, use, transfer, and disclose non-personal information for any purpose. The following are some examples of non-personal information that we collect and how we may use it:

· We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.

The MS identity guru put the smack down not only on Apple, but also on Google, writing in his blog, “Maintaining that a personal device fingerprint has ‘no direct association with any specific individual’ is unbelievably specious in 2010 – and even more ludicrous than it used to be now that Google and others have collected the information to build giant centralized databases linking phone MAC addresses to house addresses. And – big surprise – my iPhone, at least, came bundled with Google’s location service.”

MAC in this case refers to Media Access Control addresses associated with specific devices and one of the types that Google collected. Google admits to collecting MAC addresses of WiFi routers, but denies snagging MAC addresses of laptops or phones. Google is under mass investigation for its WiFi blunder.

Apple&#39s new policy is also under fire from two Congressmen who gave Apple until July 12th to respond. Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for answers about Apple gathering location information on its customers.

As far as Cameron goes, Microsoft&#39s Chief Identity Architect seems to call out anyone who violates privacy. That includes Microsoft. According to Wikipedia&#39s article on Microsoft Passport:

“A prominent critic was Kim Cameron, the author of the Laws of Identity, who questioned Microsoft Passport in its violations of those laws. He has since become Microsoft&#39s Chief Identity Architect and helped address those violations in the design of the Windows Live ID identity meta-system. As a consequence, Windows Live ID is not positioned as the single sign-on service for all web commerce, but as one choice of many among identity systems.”

Cameron seems to believe location based identifiers and these changes of privacy policies may open the eyes of some people to the, “new world-wide databases linking device identifiers and home addresses.”

 

Doing it right: Touch2Id

And now for something refreshingly different:  an innovative company that is doing identity right. 

I&#39m talking about a British outfit called Touch2Id.  Their concept is really simple.  They offer young people a smart card that can be used to prove they are old enough to drink alcohol.  The technology is now well beyond the “proof of concept” phase – in fact its use in Wiltshire, England is being expanded based on its initial success.

  • To register, people present their ID documents and, once verified, a template of their fingerprint is stored on a Touch2Id card that is immediately given to them. 
  • When they go to a bar, they wave their card over a machine similar to a credit card reader, and press their finger on the machine.  If their finger matches the template on their card, the lights come on and they can walk on in.

   What&#39s great here is:

  • Merchants don&#39t have to worry about making mistakes.  The age vetting process is stringent and fake IDs are weeded out by experts.
  • Young people don&#39t have to worry about being discriminated against (or being embarassed) just because they “look young”
  • No identifying information is released to the merchant.  No name, age or photo appears on (or is stored on) the card.
  • The movements of the young person are not tracked.
  • There is no central database assembled that contains the fingerprints of innocent people
  • The fingerprint template remains the property of the person with the fingerprint – there is no privacy issue or security honeypot.
  • Kids cannot lend their card to a friend – the friend&#39s finger would not match the fingerprint template.
  • If the card is lost or stolen, it won&#39t work any more
  • The templates on the card are digitally signed and can&#39t be tampered with

I met the man behind the Touch2Id, Giles Sergant, at the recent EEMA meeting in London.

Being a skeptic versed in the (mis) use of biometrics in identity – especially the fingerprinting of our kids – I was initially more than skeptical. 

But Giles has done his homework (even auditing the course given by privacy experts Gus Hosein and Simon Davies at the London School of Economics).  The better I understood the approach he has taken, the more impressed I was.

Eventually I even agreed to enroll so as to get a feeling for what the experience was like.  The verdict:  amazing.  Its a lovely piece of minimalistic engineering, with no unnecessary moving parts or ugly underbelly.    If I look strangely euphoric in the photo that was taken it is because I was thoroughly surprised by seeing something so good.

Since then, Giles has already added an alternate form factor – an NFC sticker people can put on their mobile phone so they don&#39t actually need to carry around an additional artifact.  It will be fascinating to watch how young people respond to this initiative, which Giles is trying to grow from the bottom up.  More info on the Facebook page.