The Laws of Identity and a Universal Identity System

I&#39d like to take a moment to look at what I&#39m trying to achieve with this exploration of the Laws of Identity.

I&#39ve pointed out already that our discussion here is not about the “philosophy of identity” – which is a compelling but entirely orthogonal pursuit.

Instead, I am trying to reveal the set of “objective” dynamics that will constrain the definition of an identity system capable of being widely enough accepted that it can enable distributed computing on a universal scale. I do not propose my laws as “moral imperatives”, but rather as explanations of dynamics which must be mastered to craft such a universal system.

For example, when we articulate the Law of Control, we do so because a system which does not put users in firm control of their own identity will – on day one or over time – be rejected by enough users that it cannot become a universal. The accordance of this law with my own sense of values is essentially irrelevant. Instead, the law represents a boundary defining what the universal identity system must look like – and must not look like – given the many social formations and cultures in which it must be able to operate.

I also say these laws are objective because they pre-exist our consciousness of them. For example, the Law of Fewest Parties predicted what aspects of several real life systems would succeed in spite of the fact that those building the systems were unaware of the law.

The Laws of Identity, taken together, establish many constraints on what a universal identity system can be. The emergent system must conform to all of the laws. Understanding this can help us eliminate a lot of doomed proposals before we waste too much time on them. The first big breakthrough is to understand these laws exist. The second breakthrough comes from daring to wrestle with what they are. In doing this we need to invent a vocabulary allowing us to communicate precisely about them.

I&#39ve been asked why I do not see the Law of Fewest Parties as a simple corollary of the Law of Control. I hope this ontological detour helps explain why. It is true that systems conforming to the Law of Control would reveal to their users that identity information is being shared with some irrelevant party. But the set of parties with whom sharing occurs represents its own boundary on the definition of what a successful system can be. In this sense it has its own content as a determining dynamic, and is a law, not a corollary.

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.