BIOGRAPHY

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Kim Cameron is a leading expert and consultant on digital identity.

Kim is Chief Architect of Identity in the Identity and Access Division at Microsoft, where he champions the emergence of a privacy enhancing Identity Metasystem reaching across technologies, industries, vendors, continents and cultures.

Kim played a leading role in the evolution of Active DirectoryFederation ServicesForefront Identity ManagerCardSpace and Microsoft&#39s other Identity Metasystem products.

He joined Microsoft in 1999 when it bought the ZOOMIT Corporation.  As VP of Technology at ZOOMIT, he had pioneered metadirectory technology and built the first shipping product. Before that he led ZOOMIT&#39s development team in producing a range of SMTP, X.400, X.500, and PKI products.

In 2009 he was appointed a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer.  He grew up in Canada, attending King&#39s College at Dalhousie University and l&#39Université de Montréal.   He served on RISEPTIS, the high-level European Union advisory body providing vision and guidance on security and trust in the Information Society.  He has won a number of industry awards, including Digital Identity World&#39s Innovation Award (2005), Network Computing&#39s Top 25 Technology Drivers Award (1996) and MVP (Most Valuable Player) Award (2005), Network World&#39s 50 Most Powerful People in Networking (2005), Microsoft&#39s Trustworthy Computing Privacy Award (2007) and Silicon.com&#39s Agenda Setters 2007.  In 2010 King&#39s College recognized his work on digital identity by awarding him an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree.

Kim blogs at identityblog.com, where he published the Laws of Identity.

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CHANNEL 9 DOES LAWS OF IDENTITY

ARCast with Ron Jacobs is quite a show. Ron is funny and smart with a relaxing manner and real radio presence. He&#39s also fascinated by things geek, especially the big architectural issues and problems. Somehow he combines all this into a talk show, and when he did his Laws Of Identity interview we not only had fun but I think ended up with a good introduction to the issues.

Here is a catalog of recent shows so you can get a handle on the kind of thing he&#39s doing.

ARCast – Taking Governance to the Edge – Choosing what to ignore and when 39:53 1/10/2006 31
ARCast – Developer 2.0 36:00 1/9/2006 134
ARCast – Smart Client Baseline Architecture Toolkit (Part 2 of 2) 33:48 1/6/2006 328
ARCast – Smart Client Baseline Architecture Toolkit (Part 1 of 2) 29:02 1/5/2006 644
ARCast – The Laws of Identity 35:37 1/4/2006 436
ARCast – Enterprise Library 2 Post Game Show 31:10 1/3/2006 3 598
ARCast – Enterprise Library 2.0 Architecture Part 2 49:18 1/2/2006 626
ARCast – Applied Topic Maps 30:35 12/29/2005 3,222
ARCast – Enterprise Library 2.0 Architecture Part 1 29:27 12/29/2005 966
ARCast – ClickOnce deployment in the real world: Microsoft IT and Headtrax 29:12 12/29/2005 569
ARCast – Transactional File System and Registry 42:22 12/13/2005 2,453
ARCast – Designing and Implementing an HL7 Software Factory 57:31 12/7/2005 2,092
ARCast – DSL and Software Factories 26:51 12/1/2005 2,666

I&#39ve found a bunch of programs I want to hear – and that are now safely stashed on my cell phone.

FIFTY MOST POWERFUL PEOPLE IN NETWORKING

I&#39ve really appreciated the interest and support of our writer colleagues – people who know how to find the story in our reality, and then, to tell it. When John Fontana called me about doing a profile, I thought it would be a way to move our identity project forward. In fact, it&#39s a long time since I&#39d done anything quite so personal – but knowing what a straight-shooter John is, I went with the flow.

Even so, I hope people can imagine my complete astonishment when, the day after Christmas, I read the following:

Kim Cameron: Identity&#39s god

Chief architect of access at Microsoft has galvanized an industry behind his ‘Seven Laws of Identity.’

By John Fontana, Network World, 12/26/05

Kim Cameron isn&#39t on a mission from God, but he once played guitar with some guys who were.

As a 20-something in the mid-1970s and the guitarist for Limbo Springs, a band he formed with friends, Cameron played at Toronto&#39s exclusive Cheetah Club behind such luminaries as John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, a k a the Blues Brothers. While those two later starred in a same-named movie in which they proclaimed their mission was blessed by the Almighty, Cameron&#39s future was guided by an electronic deity, the microcomputer.

Today, the 57-year-old Cameron, who admits to a lingering addiction to music played at ear-splitting volumes, heads all things identity at Microsoft.

In 2005, he galvanized the industry around a discussion of digital identity with his publication of “Seven Laws of Identity.” Cameron has wired together a virtual who&#39s who as part of an everyone-invited effort to define the science of identity and how to apply it to computing. The list includes his boss, Bill Gates; open source leaders, Microsoft bashers and academics, such as legal scholar Lawrence Lessig.

“To me, it is clear that all their interests must be served for progress to be made. There is so much distrust across the industry. I try to keep away from any kind of ideology and aim right at what can happen,” Cameron says. Two things he learned with Limbo Springs, communication skills and the ability to dodge flying beer bottles, have helped him pull people together and deal with the instantaneous and often abrupt feedback of today&#39s blogosphere, Cameron says.

Putting anything together, or more accurately putting anything back together, has not always been Cameron&#39s forte. As a boy who grew up living all over Canada, following a father who was an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy, Cameron was fascinated with disassembling electronics. “I had this little weirdness. I liked to invent machines. I scavenged old radios and televisions and made transmitters and things,” says Cameron, whose ever-present chuckle signals that he takes himself less seriously than he does his work.

Despite hating arithmetic, Cameron graduated from King&#39s College, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a bachelor&#39s degree in physics and math at the age of 19. “I loved slide rules – the first computers I saw. They used to fascinate me, since I could then do physics largely without arithmetic,” Cameron says.

He immediately dove into work on his master&#39s degree in physics, gained unfettered late-night access to the school&#39s mainframe and became one of the first teenage hackers at a time when computers were a mystery. “No one knew what I was doing, and if I told them, they ran away,” he says.

But it was the late 1960s, and a love interest led Cameron from geekdom to philosophy, which landed him at the University of Paris. In 1970, he entered Montreal University, where he worked on a doctorate thesis around computer simulations of social phenomena. He also lectured at the university and two others. But mainframe access was difficult, so Cameron hooked up with Limbo Springs to recapture the teenage years lost to his studies.

After a few years touring, Limbo Springs settled in as the house band at the Cheetah Club. Eventually lured away by the microcomputer, Cameron was soon running the academic computing center at George Brown University, Canada&#39s largest community college.

Cameron&#39s identity fascination was born in 1984, when he realized a directory was needed for an e-mail platform he and a colleague were developing. They dropped e-mail, then pioneered and defined a metadirectory, called Zoomit. They sold the company in 1999 to Microsoft. “I believed Microsoft would be the best company to deliver the identity infrastructure. It&#39s taking a while, but I still think it will happen,” he says.

Cameron is busy making it happen. In 2003, he quietly went public with a technology he developed called InfoCard, which lets users control their identity information and is now a cornerstone of Microsoft&#39s identity strategy.

In May 2005, his “Seven Laws of Identity,” delivered with Cameron&#39s knack for turning the complex into the understandable, was the lighthouse that guided the industry to the shores of meaningful progress.

“Kim is the great includer,” says Doc Searls, Linux advocate, prolific blogger and senior editor at Linux Journal. “He is equally brilliant and engaging, first-rate as a technologist and as a human being.” Without Cameron “we&#39d be years away from where we got just in the last year,” he adds.

Cameron&#39s own identity is one marked by a love of all types of music and cooking, especially complicated dishes that absorb his attention and relax him. Being a father has helped teach him patience, a trait that has been invaluable in his identity work through the years, he says.

Although he often wakes at 4 a.m. to work, he doesn&#39t classify it as a chore. “For me, this isn&#39t work,” says Cameron, who takes several hours each day just to read and think. “I once asked an artist friend how he could just keep painting and painting. He just said, ‘I&#39m an artist, so I paint.’ It&#39s like that. I just do what I do.”

Well, the cat&#39s out of the bag. Now everyone knows I&#39m not 39.

But let me reassure everyone I that I don&#39t really think of myself as an identity god. If I were, we&#39d have an identity layer for the internet by now.

Anyway, could anyone ask for better colleagues and friends than people like Doc Searls? With people like that on “the train” with you, how can you go wrong?

Still, this identity thing is hard, and has taken a long time. Nor is it over yet. There are still a lot of things that can go wrong. It can&#39t be done by any one person, or any one vendor, or any one government or country. But I really think that with all our Identity 2.0 friends we can get to our destination.

Finally, thanks to John Fontana and his editors for this wonderful honor.

RAINBOWS END

Simon Bisson, a British friend who is both a technical architect and a writer, pinged me recently to share his palpable excitement over a book he had just finished reading. It touches on a lot of themes of interest to us in this blog:

Vernor Vinge&#39s new novel (I think it&#39ll be out in July [amazon says May – Kim] , from Tor) “Rainbows End” is a book which touches on many of his recurring concepts, but I think there is a lot here about identity in a networked world. It&#39s a follow up to the novella “Fast Times at Fairmont High” and expands on the short he had published in IEEE Spectrum a couple of years ago

There&#39s a lot in it about ubiquitous networks, reputation management, context, co-presence, affinity hierarchies, augmented reality and the meaning of identity in a highly networked world – one major character&#39s identity is being spoofed three ways. All wrapped up a cracking SF story.

The best I can I can say is that it&#39s a “True Names” for the 21st century.

Which reminds me that I&#39ve been meaning to mention an incredible podcast from IT Conversations – Vernor&#39s keynote address from Accelerating Change 2005, where he discusses the potential for a “technological singularity”. This is the event at which the creation of what he calls ‘artificial superhuman intelligence’ changes the world so dramatically that it is impossible to imagine the world after that point.

I think James Martin&#39s moniker of ‘alien intelligence’ is better than the more prevalent term ‘artificial intelligence’ because it underlines the essential difference between computer-based ntelligence and that of humans. But much of my concern about getting the identity metasystem right stems from the need to establish systems of control and privacy that will guide the singularity toward what Vernor calls a “soft takeoff”. You can hear more in this podcast.

It will be interesting, in Rainbows End, to see what a person who has thought so deeply about the singularity makes of identity.

THE IDENTITY METASYSTEM

The Laws of Identity define the architecture for what we call the Identity Metasystem.

The Identity Metasystem is an interoperable architecture for digital identity that assumes people will have several digital identities based on multiple underlying technologies, implementations, and providers. Using this approach, not only will individuals be put in control of their identity, but organizations will be able to continue to use their existing identity infrastructure investments, choose the identity technology that works best for them, and more easily migrate from old technologies to new technologies without sacrificing interoperability with others.

This paper starts from the conclusions reached in “The Laws of Identity”; it presents an open and interoperable architecture for building the metasystem, and it describes Microsoft&#39s plans to participate in the identity metasystem. (12 printed pages)

Browser version . Printable PDF. Word.

The ideas presented here were refined here in the Blogosphere; in several years of work with the InfoCard, Identity and Access, and Web Services teams at Microsoft; and in meetings with many other identerati across many milieux.

The discussion of the metasystem continues and our documents will be updated periodically to reflect this.

 

INTRODUCTION TO THE LAWS OF IDENTITY

The Internet was built without a way to know who and what you are connecting to. This limits what we can do with it and exposes us to growing dangers. If we do nothing, we will face rapidly proliferating episodes of theft and deception that will cumulatively erode public trust in the Internet.

We have undertaken a project to develop a formal understanding of the dynamics causing digital identity systems to succeed or fail in various contexts, expressed as the Laws of Identity. Taken together, these laws define a unifying identity metasystem that can offer the Internet the identity layer it so obviously requires.  They also provide a way for people new to the identity discussion to understand its central issues.  This lets them actively join in, rather than everyone having to restart the whole discussion from scratch.

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 flaunt the law of gravity. By following them we can build a unifying identity metasystem that is widely accepted and enduring.

The Laws of Identity are available in five formats:

Browser versionPrintable PDF.  WordDIDW powerpointThe laws in point form.

The ideas presented here were refined here in the Blogosphere in a wide-ranging conversation that crossed many of the conventional faultlines of the computer industry, as well as in various private communications. In particular I would like to thank Arun Nanda, Andre Durand, Bill Barnes, Carl Ellison, Caspar Bowden, Craig Burton, Dan Blum, Dave Kearns, Dave Winer, Dick Hardt, Doc Searls, Drummond Reed, Ellen McDermott, Eric Norlin, Esther Dyson, Fen Labalme, Identity Woman Kaliya, JC Cannon, James Kobielus, James Governor, Jamie Lewis, John Shewchuk, Luke Razzell, Marc Canter, Mark Wahl, Martin Taylor, Mike Jones, Phil Becker, Radovan Janocek, Ravi Pandya, Robert Scoble, Scott C. Lemon, Simon Davies, Stefan Brands, Stuart Kwan and William Heath.

The discussion of the laws continues and our documents will be updated periodically to reflect this.

 

LAWS OF IDENTITY IN BRIEF

1. User Control and Consent:

Digital identity systems must only reveal information identifying a user with the user&#39s consent. (Starts here…)

2. Limited Disclosure for Limited Use

The solution which discloses the least identifying information and best limits its use is the most stable, long-term solution. (Starts here…)

3. The Law of Fewest Parties

Digital identity systems must limit disclosure of identifying information to parties having a necessary and justifiable place in a given identity relationship. (Starts here…)

4. Directed Identity

A universal identity metasystem must support both “omnidirectional” identifiers for use by public entities and “unidirectional” identifiers for private entities, thus facilitating discovery while preventing unnecessary release of correlation handles. (Starts here…)

5. Pluralism of Operators and Technologies:

A universal identity metasystem must channel and enable the interworking of multiple identity technologies run by multiple identity providers. (Starts here…)

6. Human Integration:

A unifying identity metasystem must define the human user as a component integrated through protected and unambiguous human-machine communications. (Starts here…)

7. Consistent Experience Across Contexts:

A unifying identity metasystem must provide a simple consistent experience while enabling separation of contexts through multiple operators and technologies. (Starts here…)

THE LAWS OF IDENTITY

Kim Cameron
Identity and Access Architect
Microsoft Corporation

May 2005

Applies to:
Security
Web development
Web services

Summary: Understand the dynamics causing digital identity systems to succeed or fail in various contexts, expressed as the Laws of Identity. Together these laws define a unifying identity metasystem that can offer the Internet the identity layer it needs. (14 printed pages)

Contents

Problem Statement
Words That Allow Dialogue
The Laws of Identity
Conclusion
For More Information

The Internet was built without a way to know who and what you are connecting to. This limits what we can do with it and exposes us to growing dangers. If we do nothing, we will face rapidly proliferating episodes of theft and deception that will cumulatively erode public trust in the Internet.

This paper is about how we can prevent the loss of trust and go forward to give Internet users a deep sense of safety, privacy, and certainty about whom they are relating to in cyberspace. Nothing could be more essential if Web-based services and applications are to continue to move beyond “cyber publication” and encompass all kinds of interaction and services. Our approach has been to develop a formal understanding of the dynamics causing digital identity systems to succeed or fail in various contexts, expressed as the Laws of Identity. Taken together, these laws define a unifying identity metasystem that can offer the Internet the identity layer it so obviously requires.

The ideas presented here were extensively refined through the Blogosphere in a wide-ranging conversation documented at www.identityblog.com that crossed many of the conventional fault lines of the computer industry, and in various private communications. In particular I would like to thank Arun Nanda, Andre Durand, Bill Barnes, Carl Ellison, Caspar Bowden, Craig Burton, Dan Blum, Dave Kearns, Dave Winer, Dick Hardt, Doc Searls, Drummond Reed, Ellen McDermott, Eric Norlin, Esther Dyson, Fen Labalme, Identity Woman Kaliya, JC Cannon, James Kobielus, James Governor, Jamie Lewis, John Shewchuk, Luke Razzell, Marc Canter, Mark Wahl, Martin Taylor, Mike Jones, Phil Becker, Radovan Janocek, Ravi Pandya, Robert Scoble, Scott C. Lemon, Simon Davies, Stefan Brands, Stuart Kwan and William Heath.

Problem Statement

The Internet was built without a way to know who and what you are connecting to.

A Patchwork of Identity “One-Offs”

Since this essential capability is missing, everyone offering an Internet service has had to come up with a workaround. It is fair to say that today&#39s Internet, absent a native identity layer, is based on a patchwork of identity one-offs.

As use of the Web increases, so does users’ exposure to these workarounds. Though no one is to blame, the result is pernicious. Hundreds of millions of people have been trained to accept anything any site wants to throw at them as being the “normal way” to conduct business online. They have been taught to type their names, secret passwords, and personal identifying information into almost any input form that appears on their screen.

There is no consistent and comprehensible framework allowing them to evaluate the authenticity of the sites they visit, and they don&#39t have a reliable way of knowing when they are disclosing private information to illegitimate parties. At the same time they lack a framework for controlling or even remembering the many different aspects of their digital existence.

Criminalization of the Internet

People have begun to use the Internet to manage and exchange things of progressively greater real-world value. This has not gone unnoticed by a criminal fringe that understands the ad hoc and vulnerable nature of the identity patchwork�and how to subvert it. These criminal forces have increasingly professionalized and organized themselves internationally.

Individual consumers are tricked into releasing banking and other information through “phishing” schemes that take advantage of their inability to tell who they are dealing with. They are also induced to inadvertently install “spyware” which resides on their computers and harvests information in long term “pharming” attacks. Other schemes successfully target corporate, government, and educational databases with vast identity holdings, and succeed in stealing hundreds of thousands of identities in a single blow. Criminal organizations exist to acquire these identities and resell them to a new breed of innovators expert in using them to steal as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. The international character of these networks makes them increasingly difficult to penetrate and dismantle.

Phishing and pharming are now thought to be one of the fastest growing segments of the computer industry, with an annual compound growth rate (CAGR) of 1000%. (For example, the Anti-Phishing Working Group “Phishing Activity Trends Report” of February 2005 cites an annual monthly growth rate in phishing sites between July through February of 26% per month, which represents a compound annual growth rate of 1600%.) Without a significant change in how we do things, this trend will continue.

It is essential to look beyond the current situation, and understand that if the current dynamics continue unchecked, we are headed toward a deep crisis: the ad hoc nature of Internet identity cannot withstand the growing assault of professionalized attackers.

A deepening public crisis of this sort would mean the Internet would begin to lose credibility and acceptance for economic transactions when it should be gaining that acceptance. But in addition to the danger of slipping backwards, we need to understand the costs of not going forward. The absence of an identity layer is one of the key factors limiting the further settlement of cyberspace.

Further, the absence of a unifying and rational identity fabric will prevent us from reaping the benefits of Web services.

Web services have been designed to let us build robust, flexible, distributed systems that can deliver important new capabilities, and evolve in response to their environment. Such living services need to be loosely coupled and organic, breaking from the paradigm of rigid premeditation and hard wiring. But as long as digital identity remains a patchwork of ad hoc one-offs that must still be hard-wired, all the negotiation and composability we have achieved in other aspects of Web services will enable nothing new. Knowing who is connecting with what is a must for the next generation of cyber services to break out of the starting gate.

It&#39s Hard to Add an Identity Layer

There have been attempts to add more standardized digital identity services to the Internet. And there have been partial successes in specific domains�like the use of SSL to protect connections to public sites; or of Kerberos within enterprises. And recently, we have seen successful examples of federation in business-to-business identity sharing.

But these successes have done little to transform the identity patchwork into a rational fabric extending across the Internet.

Why is it so hard to create an identity layer for the Internet? Mainly because there is little agreement on what it should be and how it should be run. This lack of agreement arises because digital identity is related to context, and the Internet, while being a single technical framework, is experienced through a thousand kinds of content in at least as many different contexts�all of which flourish on top of that underlying framework. The players involved in any one of these contexts want to control digital identity as it impacts them, in many cases wanting to prevent spillover from their context to any other.

Enterprises, for example, see their relationships with customers and employees as key assets, and are fiercely protective of them. It is unreasonable to expect them to restrict their own choices or give up control over how they create and represent their relationships digitally. Nor has any single approach arisen which might serve as an obvious motivation to do so. The differing contexts of discreet enterprises lead to a requirement that they be free to adopt different kinds of solutions. Even ad hoc identity one-offs are better than an identity framework that would be out of their control.

Governments too have found they have needs that distinguish them from other kinds of organization. And specific industry clusters�”verticals” like the financial industry�have come to see they have unique difficulties and aspirations when it comes to maintaining digital relationships with their customers.

As important as these institutions are, the individual�as consumer�gets the final say about any proposed cyber identity system. Anything they don&#39t like and won&#39t�or can&#39t�use will inevitably fail. Someone else will come along with an alternative.

Consumer fears about the safety of the Internet prevent many from using credit cards to make online purchases. Increasingly, malware and identity theft have made privacy issues of paramount concern to every Internet user. This has resulted in increased awareness and readiness to respond to larger privacy issues.

As the virtual world has evolved, privacy specialists have developed nuanced and well-reasoned analyses of identity from the point of view of the consumer and citizen. In response to their intervention, legal thinkers, government policy makers, and elected representatives have become increasingly aware of the many difficult privacy issues facing society as we settle cyberspace. This has already led to vendor sensitivity and government intervention, and more is to be expected.

In summary, as grave as the dangers of the current situation may be, the emergence of a single simplistic digital identity solution as a universal panacea is not realistic.

Even if a miracle occurred and the various players could work out some kind of broad cross-sector agreement about what constitutes perfection in one country, the probability of extending that universally across international borders would be zero.

An Identity Metasystem

In the case of digital identity, the diverse needs of many players demand that we weave a single identity fabric out of multiple constituent technologies. Although this might initially seem daunting, similar things have been done many times before as computing has evolved.

For instance, in the early days of personal computing, application builders had to be aware of what type of video display was in use, and of the specific characteristics of the storage devices that were installed. Over time, a layer of software emerged that was able to provide a set of services abstracted from the specificities of any given hardware. The technology of “device drivers” enabled interchangeable hardware to be plugged in as required. Hardware became “loosely coupled” to the computer, allowing it to evolve quickly since applications did not need to be rewritten to take advantage of new features.

The same can be said about the evolution of networking. At one time applications had to be aware of the specific network devices in use. Eventually the unifying technologies of sockets and TCP/IP emerged, able to work with many specific underlying systems (Token Ring, Ethernet, X.25 and Frame Relay)�and even with systems, like wireless, that were not yet invented.

Digital identity requires a similar approach. We need a unifying identity metasystem that can protect applications from the internal complexities of specific implementations and allow digital identity to become loosely coupled. This metasystem is in effect a system of systems that exposes a unified interface much like a device driver or network socket does. That allows one-offs to evolve towards standardized technologies that work within a metasystem framework without requiring the whole world to agree a priori.

Understanding the Obstacles

To restate our initial problem, the role of an identity metasystem is to provide a reliable way to establish who is connecting with what�anywhere on the Internet.

We have observed that various types of systems have successfully provided identification in specific contexts. Yet despite their success they have failed to attract usage in other scenarios. What factors explain these successes and failures? Moreover, what would be the characteristics of a solution that would work at Internet scale? In answering these questions, there is much to be learned from the successes and failures of various approaches since the 1970s.

This investigation has led to a set of ideas called the Laws of Identity. We chose the word “laws” in the scientific sense of hypotheses about the world�resulting from observation�which can be tested and are thus disprovable. (We consciously avoided the words “proposition,” meaning something proven through logic rather than experiment, and “axiom,” meaning something self-evident.) The reader should bear in mind that we specifically did not want to denote legal or moral precepts, nor embark on a discussion of the “philosophy of identity.” (All three areas are of compelling interest, but it is necessary to tightly focus the current discussion on matters that are directly testable and applicable to solving the imminent crisis of the identity infrastructure.)

These laws enumerate the set of objective dynamics defining a digital identity metasystem capable of being widely enough accepted that it can serve as a backplane for distributed computing on an Internet scale. As such, each law ends up giving rise to an architectural principle guiding the construction of such a system.

Our goals are pragmatic. When we postulate the Law of User Control and Consent, for example, it is because experience tells us: a system that does not put users in control will�immediately or over time�be rejected by enough of them that it cannot become and remain a unifying technology. How this law meshes with values is not the relevant issue.

Like the other laws, this one represents a contour limiting what an identity metasystem must look like�and must not look like�given the many social formations and cultures in which it must be able to operate. Understanding the laws can help eliminate a lot of doomed proposals before we waste too much time on them.

The laws are testable. They allow us to predict outcomes, and we have done so consistently since proposing them. They are also objective, i.e., they existed and operated before they were formulated. That is how the Law of Justifiable Parties, for example, can account for the successes and failures of the Microsoft Passport identity system.

The Laws of Identity, taken together, define the architecture of the Internet&#39s missing identity layer.

Words That Allow Dialogue

Many people have thought about identity, digital identities, personas, and representations. In proposing the laws we do not expect to close this discussion. However, in keeping with the pragmatic goals of this exercise we define a vocabulary that will allow the laws themselves to be understood.

What is a Digital Identity?

We will begin by defining a digital identity as a set of claims made by one digital subject about itself or another digital subject. We ask the reader to let us define what we mean by a digital subject and a set of claims before examining this further.

What Is a Digital Subject?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines a subject as:

“A person or thing that is being discussed, described or dealt with.”

So we define a digital subject as:

“A person or thing represented or existing in the digital realm which is being described or dealt with.”

Much of the decision-making involved in distributed computing is the result of “dealing with” an initiator or requester. And it is worth pointing out that the digital world includes many subjects that need to be “dealt with” other than humans, including:

  • Devices and computers (which allow us to penetrate the digital realm in the first place)
  • Digital resources (which attract us to it)
  • Policies and relationships between other digital subjects (e.g., between humans and devices or documents or services)

The OED goes on to define subject, in a philosophical sense, as the “central substance or core of a thing as opposed to its attributes.” As we shall see, “attributes” are the things expressed in claims, and the subject is the central substance thereby described.

(We have selected the word subject in preference to alternatives such as “entity,” which means “a thing with distinct and independent existence.” The independent existence of a thing is a moot point here�it may well be an aspect of something else. What matters is that a relying party is dealing with the thing and that claims are being made about it.)

What Is a Claim?

A claim is:

“An assertion of the truth of something, typically one which is disputed or in doubt.”

Some examples of claims in the digital realm will likely help:

  • A claim could just convey an identifier�for example, that the subject&#39s student number is 490-525, or that the subject&#39s Windows name is REDMOND\kcameron. This is the way many existing identity systems work.
  • Another claim might assert that a subject knows a given key�and should be able to demonstrate this fact.
  • A set of claims might convey personally identifying information�name, address, date of birth and citizenship, for example.
  • A claim might simply propose that a subject is part of a certain group�for example, that she has an age less than 16.
  • And a claim might state that a subject has a certain capability�for example, to place orders up to a certain limit, or modify a given file.

The concept of “being in doubt” grasps the subtleties of a distributed world like the Internet. Claims need to be subject to evaluation by the party depending on them. The more our networks are federated and open to participation by many different subjects, the more obvious this becomes.

The use of the word claim is therefore more appropriate in a distributed and federated environment than alternate words such as “assertion,” which means “a confident and forceful statement of fact or belief.” (OED) In evolving from a closed domain model to an open, federated model, the situation is transformed into one where the party making an assertion and the party evaluating it may have a complex and even ambivalent relationship. In this context, assertions need always be subject to doubt�not only doubt that they have been transmitted from the sender to the recipient intact, but also doubt that they are true, and doubt that they are even of relevance to the recipient.

Advantages of a Claims-Based Definition

The definition of digital identity employed here encompasses all the known digital identity systems and therefore allows us to begin to unify the rational elements of our patchwork conceptually. It allows us to define digital identity for a metasystem embracing multiple implementations and ways of doing things.

In proffering this definition, we recognize it does not jibe with some widely held beliefs�for example, that within a given context, identities have to be unique. Many early systems were built with this assumption, and it is a critically useful assumption in many contexts. The only error is in thinking it is mandatory for all contexts.

By way of example, consider the relationship between a company like Microsoft and an analyst service that we will call Contoso Analytics. Let&#39s suppose Microsoft contracts with Contoso Analytics so anyone from Microsoft can read its reports on industry trends. Let&#39s suppose also that Microsoft doesn&#39t want Contoso Analytics to know exactly who at Microsoft has what interests or reads what reports.

In this scenario we actually do not want to employ unique individual identifiers as digital identities. Contoso Analytics still needs a way to ensure that only valid customers get to its reports. But in this example, digital identity would best be expressed by a very limited claim�the claim that the digital subject currently accessing the site is a Microsoft employee. Our claims-based approach succeeds in this regard. It permits one digital subject (Microsoft Corporation) to assert things about another digital subject without using any unique identifier.

This definition of digital identity calls upon us to separate cleanly the presentation of claims from the provability of the link to a real world object.

Our definition leaves the evaluation of the usefulness (or the truthfulness or the trustworthiness) of the claim to the relying party. The truth and possible linkage is not in the claim, but results from the evaluation. If the evaluating party decides it should accept the claim being made, then this decision just represents a further claim about the subject, this time made by the evaluating party (it may or may not be conveyed further).

Evaluation of a digital identity thus results in a simple transform of what it starts with�again producing in a set of claims made by one digital subject about another. Matters of trust, attribution, and usefulness can then be factored out and addressed at a higher layer in the system than the mechanism for expressing digital identity itself.

The Laws of Identity

We can now look at the seven essential laws that explain the successes and failures of digital identity systems.

1. User Control and Consent

Technical identity systems must only reveal information identifying a user with the user&#39s consent. (Blogosphere discussion starts here…)

No one is as pivotal to the success of the identity metasystem as the individual who uses it. The system must first of all appeal by means of convenience and simplicity. But to endure, it must earn the user&#39s trust above all.

Earning this trust requires a holistic commitment. The system must be designed to put the user in control�of what digital identities are used, and what information is released.

The system must also protect the user against deception, verifying the identity of any parties who ask for information. Should the user decide to supply identity information, there must be no doubt that it goes to the right place. And the system needs mechanisms to make the user aware of the purposes for which any information is being collected.

The system must inform the user when he or she has selected an identity provider able to track Internet behavior.

Further, it must reinforce the sense that the user is in control regardless of context, rather than arbitrarily altering its contract with the user. This means being able to support user consent in enterprise as well as consumer environments. It is essential to retain the paradigm of consent even when refusal might break a company&#39s conditions of employment. This serves both to inform the employee and indemnify the employer.

The Law of User Control and Consent allows for the use of mechanisms whereby the metasystem remembers user decisions, and users may opt to have them applied automatically on subsequent occasions.

2. Minimal Disclosure for a Constrained Use

The solution that discloses the least amount of identifying information and best limits its use is the most stable long-term solution. (Starts here…)

We should build systems that employ identifying information on the basis that a breach is always possible. Such a breach represents a risk. To mitigate risk, it is best to acquire information only on a “need to know” basis, and to retain it only on a “need to retain” basis. By following these practices, we can ensure the least possible damage in the event of a breach.

At the same time, the value of identifying information decreases as the amount decreases. A system built with the principles of information minimalism is therefore a less attractive target for identity theft, reducing risk even further.

By limiting use to an explicit scenario (in conjunction with the use policy described in the Law of Control), the effectiveness of the “need to know” principle in reducing risk is further magnified. There is no longer the possibility of collecting and keeping information “just in case” it might one day be required.

The concept of “least identifying information” should be taken as meaning not only the fewest number of claims, but the information least likely to identify a given individual across multiple contexts. For example, if a scenario requires proof of being a certain age, then it is better to acquire and store the age category rather than the birth date. Date of birth is more likely, in association with other claims, to uniquely identify a subject, and so represents “more identifying information” which should be avoided if it is not needed.

In the same way, unique identifiers that can be reused in other contexts (for example, drivers’ license numbers, Social Security Numbers, and the like) represent “more identifying information” than unique special-purpose identifiers that do not cross context. In this sense, acquiring and storing a Social Security Number represents a much greater risk than assigning a randomly generated student or employee number.

Numerous identity catastrophes have occurred where this law has been broken.

We can also express the Law of Minimal Disclosure this way: aggregation of identifying information also aggregates risk. To minimize risk, minimize aggregation.

3. Justifiable Parties

Digital identity systems must be designed so the disclosure of identifying information is limited to parties having a necessary and justifiable place in a given identity relationship. (Starts here…)

The identity system must make its user aware of the party or parties with whom she is interacting while sharing information.

The justification requirements apply both to the subject who is disclosing information and the relying party who depends on it. Our experience with Microsoft Passport is instructive in this regard. Internet users saw Passport as a convenient way to gain access to MSN sites, and those sites were happily using Passport�to the tune of over a billion interactions per day. However, it did not make sense to most non-MSN sites for Microsoft to be involved in their customer relationships. Nor were users clamoring for a single Microsoft identity service to be aware of all their Internet activities. As a result, Passport failed in its mission of being an identity system for the Internet.

We will see many more examples of this law going forward. Today some governments are thinking of operating digital identity services. It makes sense (and is clearly justifiable) for people to use government-issued identities when doing business with the government. But it will be a cultural matter as to whether, for example, citizens agree it is “necessary and justifiable” for government identities to be used in controlling access to a family wiki�or connecting a consumer to her hobby or vice.

The same issues will confront intermediaries building a trust fabric. The law is not intended to suggest limitations of what is possible, but rather to outline the dynamics of which we must be aware.

We know from the Law of Control and Consent that the system must be predictable and “translucent” in order to earn trust. But the user needs to understand whom she is dealing with for other reasons, as we will see in the Law of Human Integration. In the physical world we are able to judge a situation and decide what we want to disclose about ourselves. This has its analogy in digital justifiable parties.

Every party to disclosure must provide the disclosing party with a policy statement about information use. This policy should govern what happens to disclosed information. One can view this policy as defining “delegated rights” issued by the disclosing party.

Any use policy would allow all parties to cooperate with authorities in the case of criminal investigations. But this does not mean the state is party to the identity relationship. Of course, this should be made explicit in the policy under which information is shared.

4. Directed Identity

A universal identity system must support both “omni-directional” identifiers for use by public entities and “unidirectional” identifiers for use by private entities, thus facilitating discovery while preventing unnecessary release of correlation handles. (Starts here…)

Technical identity is always asserted with respect to some other identity or set of identities. To make an analogy with the physical world, we can say identity has direction, not just magnitude. One special “set of identities” is that of all other identities (the public). Other important sets exist (for example, the identities in an enterprise, an arbitrary domain, or a peer group).

Entities that are public can have identifiers that are invariant and well known. These public identifiers can be thought of as beacons�emitting identity to anyone who shows up. And beacons are “omni-directional” (they are willing to reveal their existence to the set of all other identities).

A corporate Web site with a well-known URL and public key certificate is a good example of such a public entity. There is no advantage�in fact there is a great disadvantage�in changing a public URL. It is fine for every visitor to the site to examine the public key certificate. It is equally acceptable for everyone to know the site is there: its existence is public.

A second example of such a public entity is a publicly visible device like a video projector. The device sits in a conference room in an enterprise. Visitors to the conference room can see the projector and it offers digital services by advertising itself to those who come near it. In the thinking outlined here, it has an omni-directional identity.

On the other hand, a consumer visiting a corporate Web site is able to use the identity beacon of that site to decide whether she wants to establish a relationship with it. Her system can then set up a “unidirectional” identity relation with the site by selecting an identifier for use with that site and no other. A unidirectional identity relation with a different site would involve fabricating a completely unrelated identifier. Because of this, there is no correlation handle emitted that can be shared between sites to assemble profile activities and preferences into super-dossiers.

When a computer user enters a conference room equipped with the projector described above, its omni-directional identity beacon could be utilized to decide (as per the Law of Control) whether she wants to interact with it. If she does, a short-lived unidirectional identity relation could be established between the computer and the projector�providing a secure connection while divulging the least possible identifying information in accordance with the law of minimal disclosure.

Bluetooth and other wireless technologies have not so far conformed to the Law of Directed Identity. They use public beacons for private entities. This explains the consumer backlash innovators in these areas are currently wrestling with.

Public key certificates have the same problem when used to identify individuals in contexts where privacy is an issue. It may be more than coincidental that certificates have so far been widely used when in conformance with this law (i.e., in identifying public Web sites) and generally ignored when it comes to identifying private individuals.

Another example involves the proposed usage of RFID technology in passports and student tracking applications. RFID devices currently emit an omni-directional public beacon. This is not appropriate for use by private individuals.

Passport readers are public devices and therefore should employ an omni-directional beacon. But passports should only respond to trusted readers. They should not be emitting signals to any eavesdropper that identify their bearers and peg them as nationals of a given country. Examples have been given of unmanned devices that could be detonated by these beacons. In California we are already seeing the first legislative measures being taken to correct abuse of identity directionality. It shows a failure of vision among technologists that legislators understand these issues before we do.

5. Pluralism of Operators and Technologies

A universal identity system must channel and enable the inter-working of multiple identity technologies run by multiple identity providers. (Starts here…)

It would be nice if there were one way to express identity. But the numerous contexts in which identity is required won&#39t allow it.

One reason there will never be a single, centralized monolithic system (the opposite of a metasystem) is because the characteristics that would make any system ideal in one context will disqualify it in another.

It makes sense to employ a government issued digital identity when interacting with government services (a single overall identity neither implies nor prevents correlation of identifiers between individual government departments).

But in many cultures, employers and employees would not feel comfortable using government identifiers to log in at work. A government identifier might be used to convey taxation information; it might even be required when a person is first offered employment. But the context of employment is sufficiently autonomous that it warrants its own identity, free from daily observation via a government-run technology.

Customers and individuals browsing the Web meanwhile will in many cases want higher levels of privacy than is likely to be provided by any employer.

So when it comes to digital identity, it is not only a matter of having identity providers run by different parties (including individuals themselves), but of having identity systems that offer different (and potentially contradictory) features.

A universal system must embrace differentiation, while recognizing that each of us is simultaneously�and in different contexts�a citizen, an employee, a customer, and a virtual persona.

This demonstrates, from yet another angle, that different identity systems must exist in a metasystem. It implies we need a simple encapsulating protocol (a way of agreeing on and transporting things). We also need a way to surface information through a unified user experience that allows individuals and organizations to select appropriate identity providers and features as they go about their daily activities.

The universal identity metasystem must not be another monolith. It must be polycentric (federation implies this) and also polymorphic (existing in different forms). This will allow the identity ecology to emerge, evolve, and self-organize.

Systems like RSS and HTML are powerful because they carry any content. We need to see that identity itself will have several�perhaps many�contexts, and yet can be expressed in a metasystem.

6. Human Integration

The universal identity metasystem must define the human user to be a component of the distributed system integrated through unambiguous human-machine communication mechanisms offering protection against identity attacks. (Starts here…)

We have done a pretty good job of securing the channel between Web servers and browsers through the use of cryptography�a channel that might extend for thousands of miles. But we have failed to adequately protect the two or three foot channel between the browser&#39s display and the brain of the human who uses it. This immeasurably shorter channel is the one under attack from phishers and pharmers.

No wonder. What identities is the user dealing with as she navigates the Web? How understandably is identity information conveyed to her? Do our digital identity systems interface with users in ways that objective studies have shown to work? Identity information currently takes the form of certificates. Do studies show certificates are meaningful to users?

What exactly are we doing? Whatever it is, we&#39ve got to do it better: the identity system must extend to and integrate the human user.

Carl Ellison and his colleagues have coined the term ‘ceremony’ to describe interactions that span a mixed network of human and cybernetic system components�the full channel from Web server to human brain. A ceremony goes beyond cyber protocols to ensure the integrity of communication with the user.

This concept calls for profoundly changing the user&#39s experience so it becomes predictable and unambiguous enough to allow for informed decisions.

Since the identity system has to work on all platforms, it must be safe on all platforms. The properties that lead to its safety can&#39t be based on obscurity or the fact that the underlying platform or software is unknown or has a small adoption.

One example is United Airlines’ Channel 9. It carries a live conversation between the cockpit of one&#39s plane and air traffic control. The conversation on this channel is very important, technical, and focused. Participants don&#39t “chat”�all parties know precisely what to expect from the tower and the airplane. As a result, even though there is a lot of radio noise and static, it is easy for the pilot and controller to pick out the exact content of the communication. When things go wrong, the broken predictability of the channel marks the urgency of the situation and draws upon every human faculty to understand and respond to the danger. The limited semiotics of the channel mean there is very high reliability in communications.

We require the same kind of bounded and highly predictable ceremony for the exchange of identity information. A ceremony is not a “whatever feels good” sort of thing. It is predetermined.

But isn&#39t this limitation of possibilities at odds with our ideas about computing? Haven&#39t many advances in computing come about through ambiguity and unintended consequences that would be ruled out in the austere light of ceremony?

These are valid questions. But we definitely don&#39t want unintended consequences when figuring out who we are talking to or what personal identification information to reveal.

The question is how to achieve very high levels of reliability in the communication between the system and its human users. In large part, this can be measured objectively through user testing.

7. Consistent Experience Across Contexts

The unifying identity metasystem must guarantee its users a simple, consistent experience while enabling separation of contexts through multiple operators and technologies.

Let&#39s project ourselves into a future where we have a number of contextual identity choices. For example:

  • Browsing: a self-asserted identity for exploring the Web (giving away no real data)
  • Personal: a self-asserted identity for sites with which I want an ongoing but private relationship (including my name and a long-term e-mail address)
  • Community: a public identity for collaborating with others
  • Professional: a public identity for collaborating issued by my employer
  • Credit card: an identity issued by my financial institution
  • Citizen: an identity issued by my government

We can expect that different individuals will have different combinations of these digital identities, as well as others.

To make this possible, we must “thingify” digital identities�make them into “things” the user can see on the desktop, add and delete, select and share. (We have chosen to “localize” the more venerable word “reify”.) How usable would today&#39s computers be had we not invented icons and lists that consistently represent folders and documents? We must do the same with digital identities.

What type of digital identity is acceptable in a given context? The properties of potential candidates will be specified by the Web service from which a user wants to obtain a service. Matching thingified digital identities can then be displayed to the user, who can select between them and use them to understand what information is being requested. This allows the user to control what is released.

Different relying parties will require different kinds of digital identities. And two things are clear:

  • A single relying party will often want to accept more than one kind of identity, and
  • A user will want to understand his or her options and select the best identity for the context

Putting all the laws together, we can see that the request, selection, and proffering of identity information must be done such that the channel between the parties is safe. The user experience must also prevent ambiguity in the user&#39s consent, and understanding of the parties involved and their proposed uses. These options need to be consistent and clear. Consistency across contexts is required for this to be done in a way that communicates unambiguously with the human system components.

As users, we need to see our various identities as part of an integrated world that nonetheless respects our need for independent contexts.

Conclusion

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 flout the law of gravity. By following them we can build a unifying identity metasystem that is universally accepted and enduring.

For More Information

Microsoft&#39s Vision for an Identity Metasystem whitepaper

This whitepaper as it appears on MSDN

Join the identity discussion at http://www.identityblog.com/

BLOGSPAM DRIVES US FORWARD

After a year in which we existed in blissful naivite, IdentityBlog has become a real target for blogspammers.

The bad news is that it&#39s almost impossible for me to continue with my current technology, Radio Userland. I liked Radio, and I&#39ll miss it.

But by now I&#39ve cheered up quite a bit – largely because my friends Dick Hardt and Keith Grennan at sxip took the time to show me the cool features of WordPress. Keith even put together a prototype that I could use as a starting point for “porting” the IdentityBlog.

I&#39m hoping this move will simplify the task of figuring out how all our stuff can work together.

Meanwhile, this progress comes at a cost, as always. For example, WordPress requires access to MySQL. This has meant that my ISP decided to move me from one server to another, with interruption of service Friday morning while DNS adjusted. Thanks to all those who pinged me about this.

As always, since blogging is not my day job, it might take me a little while to get the blog moved over and back to normal. I hope you&#39ll bear with me since it&#39s all for the greater good.