Is technological innovation ying or just yang?

Eric Norlin steals the stand-up spotlight with his posting on how I ruffled some of Chris Ceppi's feathers yesterday. Chris says:

Some exaggeration for effect on Identityblog today:

“As much as I think Chris understands policy issues, I don't think anyone could be more wrong than he is in eliding the role of technical innovation in achieving the new architecture Solove is looking for. Legal remedies will not be plausible without the right technological infrastructure. We need everyone to understand this. It is what underlies the historical urgency of the present identity discussion. And it explains why identity architecture must make possible specific capabilities, like formal ways to demonstrate the contract under which a user has made information available. We must think about the long term.”

After consulting Eric Norlin to find out what it means to elide something – thanks Eric! – I believe Kim has gone hyperbolic here on a couple of fronts. First, it is, in fact, possible to be more wrong. I have been myself on several occasions – notably in my early work with the government e-authentication initiative in 2003 when I vastly underestimated the impact privacy concerns would have on the nature and timing of federated identity deployments.

OK. Chris has got me on this. Maybe I should have said “slur over” rather than “elide”… And Chris’ slur was far from the “wrongest” thing in the world… But heck. I'm a technologist. So what was I to make of this bizarre statement:

…the technical innovation surrounding digital identity is best seen as a reform effort.

To me, this is like saying ying is important, yang is a reform effort. Protons are important, electrons are a reform effort. Science is important, art is a reform effort. In my thinking, all aspects of this are important, and equally necessary to reach a successful outcome.

Chris continues:

So, what is the proper role of technical innovation in reforming identity? Given the broad set of powerful stakeholders involved, it would be surprising if technology architects, even those as influential as Kim, settle that issue unilaterally. It is more likely that the role technology plays will not be designed or planned, but will evolve in response to a set of dynamic forces.

Of course I don't believe that an identity infrastructure can be built through unilateral actions. It has been tried before, and failed. In fact, few things in life can be built unilaterally.

This said, technology has its own inevitabilities, quite apart from our consciousness or will. For example, the industrial revolution dramatically changed all the societies it touched, including people and groups who did not want to be changed. The same was true of the introduction of electronic media. The cyber revolution is yet one more example. I would refer readers to Harold Innis (the mentor of Marshall McLuan) and his 1950 book, Empire and Communications.

We need to recognize this to produce good social outcomes. The laws of identity, for example, are an attempt to come to grips with some of these inevitabilities in the particular area of technology I am involved with. The fifth law states that widespread acceptance of an identity infrastructure will depend on it being a metasystem, enabling free choice between multiple technologies run by multiple operators. This approach is the technological design allowing solutions to “evolve in response to a set of dynamic forces” – as Chris himself says.

I salute and embrace Chris’ view that our relation to all the stakeholders of identity (meaning everyone) should be based on “cooperation, curiosity, discovery, openness, respect, trust, and humility.”

From the Putting Two Plus Two Together Department

A picture named panoptico.jpg

Panopticon – the 15th Annual Conference on Computers, Freedom & Privacy – is taking place this week at the Westin Hotel in Seattle.

The list of speakers and participants is a privacy who's who. It includes Stefan Brands, well known to readers of this blog given his crossover into identity technologies, as well as Daniel Solove, who I just wrote about – not realizing he was actually in the city – and a host of others. As if this wasn't amazing enough, tomorrow will begin with a debate around the work of the brilliant and disturbing identity futurist Steve Mann, from the University of Toronto. I see him as the cyborg Iggy Pop of identity, passion incarnate, with wires in his brain:

For many years, Dr. Steve Mann has been working on wearable computing. He now goes everywhere recording and broadcasting on the Internet his every movement and experience. As surveillance in society grows, Steve fights back by recording his own version of experience, which he claims as his inalienable right. Is sousveillance the only weapon individuals have, or are more cameras just adding to the problem? We will hear from a panel of experts with widely divergent views: Dr. Mann, the Cyborg; David Brin, author of The Transparent Society; Dr. Ivan Szekely, drafter of information and privacy legislation in the former eastern bloc state of Hungary; and computer scientist Dr. Latanya Sweeney of Carnegie Mellon. The panel will be moderated by Anita Ramasastry of the University of Washington Law School. > Organizer: Stephanie Perrin

I was scheduled to be away from Seattle this week but my plans changed at the very last minute – I wonder if you can still get in?

Regime for Privacy Protection

Identity Woman has been telling us for some time about Daniel Solove's amazing book, The Digital Person.

Of course a lot of books have come out recently which discuss privacy issues – even making the cover of last week's New York Times Book Review section (William Safire discussing No Place To Hide and Chatter).

But Solove's work is in a class by itself.

In an argument worthy of George Lakoff he convinces us that privacy advocates need to move beyond the secrecy-based “Big Brother” metaphor, and embrace the metaphor of Kafka's “The Trial” – a novel in which the subject is arrested for charges which constantly elude him, put forward by unknown accusers who remain just out of sight – a situation which might be remedied at any moment should the bureaucratic process, which of course is undefined and impenetrable, wend its way to a positive conclusion (naturally it doesn't).

Solove argues that, in general, superdossiers are assembled not by punitive central government authorities, but by an uncontrolled and unknowable web of commercial actors whose self-interest lies in knowing-us-to-death.

Solove wants us to move away from the paradigm where an affront to privacy is defined as revealing something secret. After all, things like our names, sex, age, address and profession are in some sense public information (i. e. are published in public documents). If an invasion of privacy consists only in revealing secret information, then third parties who make personally identifying information available to others do nothing wrong, when in fact the construction of superdossiers that remain out of our control is fundamentally dehumanizing. He demonstrates clearly that the secrecy approach has failed to produce rational outcomes in many legal cases.

His main interest lies in updating the “legal architecture” protecting privacy in the United States. (The book includes an interesting discussion of the similarities between physical, software, and legal architecture).

Recently Solove has teamed up with Chris Jay Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Center West Coast Office to author the Regime for Privacy Protection. This document proposes a series of concrete measures the authors see as practical ways of addressing privacy concerns of the modern technological period.

Identity colleague Chris Ceppi reviews “the regime” this way:

As someone who feels very strongly that the technical innovation surrounding digital identity is best seen as a reform effort, I was delighted to come across this extremely thorough and hopefully influential study of identity and privacy published by Daniel Solove and Chris Hoofnagle.

Solove and Hoofnagle's Model Regime presents a clearly defined set of problem descriptions and proposed regulatory remedies for a whole set of privacy concerns currently plaguing digital identity – it is a good bet that their thinking will find its way into the technology that is deployed in this reform effort.

Of particular interest is the historical context they provide for the development of privacy legislation. If you have ever wondered how in the world the Social Security Number was allowed to proliferate as a universal identifier used by businesses, you'll be heartened to learn that restricting the use of SSN by businesses was proposed for inclusion in the 1974 Privacy Act – but the restriction on SSN use did not make it into the final Act. Ouch

As much as I think Chris understands policy issues, I don't think anyone could be more wrong than he is in eliding the role of technical innovation in achieving the new architecture Solove is looking for. Legal remedies will not be plausible without the right technological infrastructure. We need everyone to understand this. It is what underlies the historical urgency of the present identity discussion. And it explains why identity architecture must make possible specific capabilities, like formal ways to demonstrate the contract under which a user has made information available. We must think about the long term.

Readers of this blog will be aware of my conclusion that the technical designers of the identity metasystem need to avoid architectural decisions which impose their prejudices on it. Instead we should provide the framework in which various kinds of technologically and operationally unrelated identity providers suitable to specific contexts can be selected by users who are effectively given ultimate freedom of choice.

This kind of technological freedom puts the levers of technology in the hands of citizens and thereby allows the normal processes of legal architecture to reach out into the newly evolving technology realms.

I trust that one day legal and techological architects will meet up to further discuss these issues.

The ‘Ph’ Mother Load

Andrew Layman, who is one of the key forces behind the WS-* set of industry standards, asked me recently if taxonomically speaking there was an activity called “phraud” that encompassed both “phishing” and “pharming”. And I thought he was joking!

But the concept struck me as a simplifying principle that would clean up a lot of slideware, so I asked if I could attribute the new category to him. Then a couple of days later, he sent me this etymologically satisfying email:

“It is such an obvious joke that I doubted I was the first one to think of it, so I searched the web for “phraud” and discovered lots of hits, most of them ambiguous, but clearly I’m not the first person to use that word.

“Interestingly, I also think they shed some light on the plausible origins of the term “phishing.” It appears that in the subculture of people who like to steal services from the phone company and the like, it is conventional to substitute ‘ph’ for ‘f’ a lot. Probably originating from ‘phone freak’ becoming ‘phone phreak’ and thence to all similar transformations. So luring people, that is, fishing, would quickly become ‘phishing’.”

I had actually had the same intuition. In fact I became sufficiently fascinated by the strange destinations associated with ‘phraud’ that I successfully avoided my growing pile of urgent tasks for several hours while exploring how far back its usage goes.

And then I hit the mother load. I mean a world where ‘Ph’ is hegemonic. A place where everyone has a ‘Ph’ D. Just look at this:

==Phrack Inc.==

Volume One, Issue Eight, Phile #2 of 9

==Phrack Pro-Phile V==

Written and Created by Taran King

June 25, 1986

Welcome to Phrack Pro-Phile V.Phrack Pro-Phile is created to bring information to you, the users, about old or highly important/controversial people. This month, I bring to you one of the most influential users of our times and of days of old…

An article on an identity system called (control yourselves) ISDN includes this quote from Mr. R., an AT&T supervisor:

“One of the controlling factors behind The Integrated Services Digital Network is the simple fact that AT&T, MCI, and other long distance companies are losing MILLIONS to Phone Phraud.”

Another “phile” which has not had the requisite cosmetic application of ‘Ph’ begins:

This file will detail the use of a rural junction box to fraud the phone company and make all the free phone calls you want to BBS or AE by.

Seems like Andrew hit the nail on the head.

From simple identity assertions to… identity ontology

Weaverluke is a remarkable read any day. There Luke Razzel deals with digital identity at a much higher level than I do – exploring its uses, meaning and possibilities. If you don't know Weaverluke, you might start with this piece on systems that could calculate the ontological distance between digital subjects.

Luke imagines a multi-dimensional network model of identity (as relationships) that could be built on top of an infrastructure for privacy and collaboration of the kind we are discussing at identityblog.

“In the sense that to perceive ourselves as unique individuals, I must perceive you as not me, and vice-versa, you and I inevitably have different ontologies. And, according to our differing experiences in life, we will invariably have developed many other ontological differences such as “my friends”, “my family”, “my self-image”, “my moral values”, “the one true religion” (optional!) and so on.

“Given that we recreate our personal and communal ontologies within the identity net, and that those ontologies are inevitably mutually divergent, it seems to me that distance in the identity net can most usefully be used to express ontological distance between the nodes of the network. In simple terms, we can then explore identity as an expression of ontological distance between two entities.”

Luke then explores what this might mean in different contexts, be they mundane or even sexual, leading him to examine the factors mitigating the indiscriminate release of information. Thinking about the technical infrastructure we are talking about here, he says:

“What are the implications for contemporarily-practical applications of digital identity? Kim Cameron's focus on identity assertions as a do-able goal is, I feel, just right. Microformats—small data-structures for a specific purpose, such as expressing identity attributes, for example—seem to be the most effective way right now to enable two entities to inter-operate their ontologies within a specific remit, agreeing on the smallest-practical patch of common ontological ground for the purpose.”

Reading this I was reminded of Doc Searls‘ admonitions about how near the beginning we are in terms of the arc that will describe identity in cyberspace. I totally agree. Our current tools are cavemen's flints. People like Luke – and the social computing movement as a whole – make it clear that we are just taking our first steps on the way to new cyberworlds. Can we remember to build a metasystem which takes as its first premise that it must be a vehicle for evolution? Speaking of which, Luke then says:

“We can presumably anticipate a Darwinian contest between rival identity microformats leading to the evolution of a few or many common microformats for digital identity. As for context-dependence for the disclosure of identity attributes, I understand this as being absolutely in tune with the notion, expressed above, of identity as a wholly subjective property that arises from within relationship.”

The Darwinian contest can only happen once there is an ecology. When we talk of an identity metasystem which is both polycentric and polymorphous we refer to a system creating precisely such an ecology, and allowing the “rivalry for microformats” through which new concepts like “ontological distance” can be turned into reality.

My key takeaway is that we should keep our assumptions about how the identity metasystem will be used out of the system itself. Our assumptions may be right, but they are not the only right assumptions. That is why I keep pushing things like “how you believe a claim” or “whether a claim is true” to the level above the metasystem itself, where various possible approaches can be tried. Of course, you need answers to those questions, and products that provide those answers. But we mustn't mix them up with the metasystem and its characteristics.

LSE report on the British ID Card Initiative

The LSE (London School of Economics) has released The Identity Project – An assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill & its implications. (Interim Report). Ideal Government says:

It demolishes both the government’s published aims and their proposals.

Should such repeated high profile failures raise questions about the future of the Home Office: Has the current Home Office itself become a major threat to the UK?

I know everyone is busy, but really, take a look at this thoughtful report.

It is a breakthrough piece of work in exploring, in a holistic and all-sided way, the relation between social issues and technologies of identity. I suspect that government technology leaders and policy makers around the globe will pay increasingly more attention to the thinking it represents – if they want to avoid the missteps against which it is a reaction. The report includes a discussion of identity initiatives in France, giving the impression that the French have already transcended many of the problems not addressed in the British Government's proposals.

Consider these powerful arguments:

Individuals today are represented by an abundance of identifiers that are designed to be relied on only by one or a few service providers only in specific contexts. An Internet Service Provider does not record our NHS number (and has no knowledge or concern whether we have been issued such an identifier, nor any means of linking to such a number). Sport club membership cards are not linked with our employee information, and are identifiers issued in accordance with club membership policies and requirements. As a matter of design, the identifiers held by the sports club are in essence useless to any other entity other than the sports club. It is also fair to say that in a number of these relationships, records are not even in a computerised form. The personal data that is collected for the issuance of an identifier is not even verified, nor is it required to be.

Local identifiers enable service providers to identify individuals within their specific transaction contexts, to create accounts for them, and to effectively deal with fraudsters. At the same time, local identifiers have the important benefit of limiting the capabilities of service providers to create profiles of an individual’s activities with other parties. A pub owner does not need to know our name, birth date or birthplace but merely whether we are of the legal age to consume alcoholic beverages. Previously a relationship of trust would be established between the publican and the clientele; or a form of identity would be verified to ensure that the individual’s birth year is prior to the threshold year. Our prior means of identification involved natural segmentation that ensures that identity thieves can only do damage with specific providers where they have gained information on users of those providers.

Bravo! Then the report continues:

The envisioned national ID card would replace today’s local non-electronic identifiers by universal identifiers that are processed fully electronically. This migration would remove the natural segmentation of traditional activities. In the case of a pub, if additional information was disclosed, say through a national ID card, malicious staff could steal this information, or this information can be abused in other ways.

As a consequence, the damage that identity thieves can cause would no longer be confined to narrow domains, nor would identity thieves be impaired any longer by the inherent slowdowns of today’s non-electronic identification infrastructure. Furthermore, service providers and other parties would be able to electronically profile individuals across multiple activities on the basis of the universal electronic identifiers that would inescapably be disclosed when individuals interact with service providers.

Ironically, the currently envisioned ID card architecture therefore has severe implications for the security and autonomy of service providers. When the same universal electronic identifiers are relied on by a number of autonomous service providers in different domains, the security and privacy threats for the service providers no longer come only from eavesdroppers and other traditional outsiders. A rogue system administrator, a hacker, a virus, or an identity thief with insider status would be able to cause massive damage to service providers, could electronically monitor the identities and visiting times of all clients of service providers, and could impersonate and falsely deny access to the clients of service providers.

Again Bravo! This is a wonderful presentation of various ideas which have animated these pages for some months, and which lie behind our fourth law.

The discussion of how – technically speaking – unnecessary data centralization leads to increased and unmotivated risk also resonates deeply.

The report concludes:

In the context of a national ID card infrastructure, security and privacy are not opposites but, assuming that proper privacy-preserving technologies are deployed, are mutually reinforcing. In order to move forward constructively with a national ID card, it is important for government to investigate technological alternatives that hold the promise of multi-party security while preserving privacy.

Not only will this approach preserve privacy, but it will also protect the existing relationships in society. It will ensure that the rail company knows what it needs to know for granting special prices to students; that sports clubs know the required information for membership purposes; and the NHS has sufficient information to authenticate patients; without unnecessarily binding these relationships with additional needless information. This approach will also diminish the potential for the amassing and sharing of information that is unnecessary and disproportionate.

Scobleizer on Identity

I met Scoble recently when he and Charles Torre of Channel 9 decided to interview me. Funny thing is I thought we were just getting together so I could learn about their approach to video. Well, I learned one thing: if guys with cameras want an interview, they get an interview. These are cool dudes.

Anyway, it was great fun and there is good news. Seems like Scoble thought a lot about what we were talking about. And that's huge, because he, like Doc Searls, can tie identity into a lot of other conversations. Here‘s some of what he Scobleized:

Can't wait for my interview with Kim Cameron to be up… (I think that's video talk for ‘podcast’ … Kim)

I'm now on the identity bandwagon. I don't care if you don't like Microsoft. Learn about identity and see if you can help get us identity systems that put users in control. I'm there. I'll be cheering you on.

One thing: I didn't grok Kim's blog until I met him and talked with him. Now it totally makes sense.

Starter kit? Listen to this IT Conversations show with the world's identity leaders.