William Heath issues an Appeal to Brainstorm

In Britain, the identity card debate is heating up again.

Before the recent election, the British government proposed a law introducing identity cards and a corresponding central identity database. Of course the political issues are for Britains to decide. But several of us who are involved with identity issues have commented on the situation from a technlogical point of view: governments would be well advised to look at advanced technologies through which they can achieve their governmental objectives while better protecting privacy and lowering the risk of an identity catastrophy.

Now the election is over. The British debate has started up again. And Edward Heath of Ideal Government, a site dedicated to issues of how to improve government at all levels, has issued a broad “Appeal to Brainstorm”. What a cool idea.

What do we want from identity systems? Wouldn’t it be better if…?

The Home Office is to reintroduce its idea of an ID system to underpin the sort of world it wants. Some are in favour. Some raise principled objections. Some are too angry to be coherent. There’s a major political row brewing. But very few people can really get their heads aroud it.

Some people, who like political rows, will say – bring it on.

This is a call to people who:

  • don’t care for political rows
  • are hardcore in their desire to live in an intelligently e-enabled world, built on a foundation of trust
  • insist on good public safety measures but reject needless authoritarianism
  • insist on respect for human rights and dignity
  • hate to see money wasted (whether through incompetence or deliberate fraud)
  • and want good, convenient and common-sense public services.

If that’s you, please join us at www.idealgovernment.com in an intense on-line brainstorm about what we want from identity systems for an e-enabled world. Ideal Government – the web log where ethnographers of bureaucracy come together to say what they want in e-enabled public services – is delighted to be official host for the LSE’s on-line debate in preparation for the Identity Project final report. All welcome. Ususal rules apply. Anyone can apply for author password. Anyone can comment. Anything offensive or actionable is taken down.

Contrary to what Baroness Scotland has said, there has not been an effective consultation and debate. A few cosy discussion between a partially-informed buyer and a few willing suppliers is no substitute for intelligent, passionate and measured engagement between people who really understand the issues in which they are respectively expert.

The LSE Identity Project is an essential contribution to setting out a user requirement of what we want from e-enabled government. Identity systems will produce a big bang in the e-enabled world. Let’s make sure we get the fireworks right.

For those not familiar with the British landscape, the LSE is the famous London School of Economics. They published a profoundly interesting report on the British proposal as first introduced, which I wrote about here.

Great pieces on the laws

Scott Mace did amazingly accurate notes – pretty much a transcript – of my presentation on the Seven Laws at DIDW. How can he do that? If he ever needs someone to testify as to his accuracy, he can call on any of us who were there.

Over lunch Scott came up with the concept of an ID-Legal web site, joking that:

“…what we need is a Web site that determines which Web sites and services comply with (the) 7 laws of identity. Maybe it could be modeled on this, and let the visitors vote on the compliance of each particular Web site with the 7 laws.”

Anyway, if you know people who would benefit from the laws, I've made some printable versions (pdf and doc) that may be easier for people to read.

John Pallato at eWeek.com did a really good piece on the laws as well. I can't say enough about excellent journalism and what an important part of our world it is. People say it's rare. But excellent anything is rare – by definition.

Whitepaper on the laws… and more…

A number of us have spent the last four or five days at Digital Identity World (DIDW) in San Francisco. DIDW really is an entire world, and a great one for getting a deeper understanding of identity. Many of us had the chance to meet in person for the first time, and I'm sure came away with a deep supply of “aha” moments.

I gave a presentation on the Laws of Identity and was on a panel led by Doc Searls featuring Marc Canter, Dick Hardt, Drummond Reed and Johannes Ernst. In addition I participated in the Digital Identity Update presented by Microsoft's Distributed Systems CTO John Shewchuk and InfoCard's Bill Barnes. It was a pretty moving experience.

Flying down, a fellow passenger in my seat (they were really packing us in) spilled her coffee on my laptop so I've been doing Cameron Unplugged for the last few days. I haven't got a clue yet about who's been blogging or what has been said.

For those who weren't able to attend, I've finally finished a whitepaper on the Laws of Identity, which I will post on www.identityblog.com in “pdf” format as soon as possible. In a meantime, msdn has published an online version here.

At the same time, those of us working on InfoCards and other Web Services identity components at Microsoft published a whitepaper clarifying our thoughts about how to bring about the kind of Identity Metasystem defined by the Laws… This thinking is very much in line with our presentation a year ago at DIDW – though our research and conversations have led to ideas which are noticeably more refined. Further, within a few weeks people will be able to play with early ‘beta bits’.

But whatever you do, don't crank your expectations into overdrive… A metasystem only works if people who can prosper through this kind of ecology climb aboard. This is not something Microsoft wants to do – or even could do – by itself. We won't be “declaiming”… We're early in this process.

The good news is there are a great number of innovative people from all over the industry – and crossing all the conventional fault lines – who want this project to happen. It's actually an incredible experience. More to come…

Bottoms up identity discussion at DIDW

Here is Marc Canter's take on DIDW versus the bottoms-up identity initiative:

So I am going to DIDW. It's key. I have no way of NOT going!

Eric Norlin slapped me around a bit today and both me and Doc took so lumps for not getting it together by grabbing an entire afternoon for our communal cause.

But it's all good – cause this will be a catalyst for us to go out and have our own dam show. DIDW is an enterprise show – and we need a show of our own.

Don't give up the ghost yet! Since last year, those of us who believe in bottoms up have made a lot of progress in getting parity with top-down.

Here's a call for everyone interested in bottoms up identity to be at the Hyatt in San Francisco on Monday afternoon at 1:00 – no conference pass necessary.

I'd love to meet you if you can get there. Stay tuned for room number.

Usage note

I have received a surprising volume of correspondence in multiple media about the use of “dialog” as a verb. There seems to be a bug in Radio Userland since it currently shows only 4 comments whereas I have pages of comments and emails. I do like this link brought to us from an “anonymous blog reader”:

Usage Note: In recent years the verb sense of dialogue meaning “to engage in an informal exchange of views” has been revived, particularly with reference to communication between parties in institutional or political contexts. Although Shakespeare, Coleridge, and Carlyle used it, this usage today is widely regarded as jargon or bureaucratese. Ninety-eight percent of the Usage Panel rejects the sentence Critics have charged that the department was remiss in not trying to dialogue with representatives of the community before hiring the new officers.

I can assure you that the usage panel doesn't want to dialog about their conclusions.

Which means I can get back to work.

I just happen to have a twenty volume refutation here

Recently, in keeping with my goal of getting people who have worked on identity to start supporting each other more, I nominated Pat Patterson of Sun Microsystems for an important award (the coveted Serenity Award as mentioned here).

I have to thank Pat for taking the time to answer me. But – and I'm not complaining about his obvious passion – his response read like this:

“Sorry to be a language bore, but… “dialog with them”??? Does every noun have to be munged into a verb? Is there anything that “talking with them” doesn't convey that “dialog with them” does? Sorry – pet hate of mine…”

I was “on the road” at the time, and assumed I must have lost touch with our mother tongue. Embarrased, I wrote back to Pat as follows:

“You are right. Hats off to anyone who still believes in language. So we'll talk instead.”

And indeed we are setting up time for that (and a glass of something, I expect) at DIDW.

But back at home, I turned to my twenty volume edition of the Oxford English Dictionary for “cultural renewal”. And guess what I found?

A picture named dialog-1.jpg A picture named dialog-2.jpg

Hmmm. I wonder if 400 years of continuous usage makes it? Est-ce que c'est une dialogue de sourds?

I'm feeling “intransitive” on this one, Pat. Looking forward to dialoging again, too.

It's only 600,000 identities…

Now there is this stupid flaunting of law two (minimal disclosure) – leading to an ‘identity loss’. I really like the concept of ‘identity loss’ – it's a lot more happy sounding than ‘identity theft’ or ‘identity catastrophe’, since we have no proof the information fell into the hands of someone evil. Here's what we do know:

“In the letter to employees, Time Warner said the missing tapes contained data such as names and Social Security numbers of current and former U.S.-based employees, their dependents and beneficiaries

Of course I always hate to drag in my dependents and beneficiaries, especially young kids, but hey – there are positive aspects to the way things unfolded:

“After determining that publicizing the data loss wouldn't interfere with the investigation, Time Warner posted a statement about it on its Web site…”

I guess if our knowing had interfered with the investigation, we would still be in the dark. But again, best not to interfere.

“Cockell said in the statement to employees that the company has made arrangements with Equifax to offer U.S. employees a free subscription to Equifax's Credit Watch Gold credit monitoring service to help protect identity and credit information for 12 months.

Have I told you just how much Equifax has alienated me as a customer? Maybe Eric Norlin or Charles Fitzgerald could sort this company out, but no one else in the world!

I mean, they make AT&T and Verizon look like Mother Theresa.

In the course of my identity research I once contacted Equifax and asked for my own credit report. I found that a company which had billed me for a never-used credit card was claiming I had never payed them for it. Seems like my lady friend had cut it up before reading the fine print. I appreciate Equifax's role in passing that around! And letting me find out about it for such a reasonable fee.

I was able to sort things out by giving in to the extortion, though I now understand Equifax should have given me one free report when I first approached them (only done if you know about it ahead of time). Since then, things have become worse. I have been repeatedly scammed and spammed by Equifax with a bounty of stuff like this (I especially appreciate having them write to me at workd and calling me ‘valued’):

equifax spam

Isn't that just great? I'm gonna save!

But back to the news from today:

Time Warner's disclosure follows on the heels of other high-profile security breaches in the U.S. In March, a laptop containing data on 100,000 graduate students, alumni and applicants from the University of California, Berkeley, was stolen from a campus office.

Bart Lazar, a privacy and intellectual property lawyer and partner in the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw. in Chicago, said that as data loss incidents pile up, thereÕs greater potential that firms found responsible will have to change their data security standards. Most of the pressure, he said, may come not from Congress but from insurance companies that will require more stringent safeguards before signing with a client.

A thread you should follow

Here's a conversation that could push the industry's reset button – and make what we're saying a lot more believable by getting us to describe digital relationships more precisely.

Let's listen in as Jamie Lewis, CEO and Research Chair for the Burton Group, comments on a post by Phil Windley, another key identity thinker whose upcoming book will drive identity concepts home for a broad audience of IT managers and CXOs (it's a thriller…)

Phil Windley’s post about identifiers and identity contexts sparked some great responses, with both Kim Cameron and Luke Razzell over at Weaverluke chiming in with interesting things to say. In that conversation, I couldn’t help but notice Kim’s assertion that he’s “not the world's biggest fan of using the word ‘trust’ to describe the means by which we evaluate the truthfulness of digital identity claims.”

I understand Kim’s lack of comfort with the term. It gets thrown around a lot, in both a social and a business context. Given its deep roots in the X.509 public key infrastructure (PKI) marketecture, the term “trust” also carries an enormous amount of baggage. (The term can imply naiveté, for example, which at least partially explains why Bob Blakley of IBM has said on many occasions that “trust is for suckers.”)

In short, “trust” serves as an all-too-convenient alias for a lot of hard problems. And in digital identity discussions, it’s impossible to avoid either the term or those problems. But the various posts I pointed to earlier (and my empathy with Kim’s statement) got me thinking. If we’re trying to really define something new—Dick Hardt and others have gone as far as to call it Identity 2.0—then we should at least hang the old trust rug on a clothes line and beat the dust and dirt out of it. So I thought I’d think out loud a little about trust and how the identity contexts and that Phil, Kim, and Luke discussed affect our perceptions of it, and how we implement it.

In short, the social and business (or government) identity contexts are very different. And I think it’s fair to say that they present two very different ways of looking at “trust” and all of the hard problems that lurk behind the term. I also suspect that at least part of Kim's discomfort relates to a transfer of the term “trust,” and all of its baggage, to this next generation of digital identity and its newer social context. Before I start thinking out loud about the social side, however, it’s useful to start by defining the more well-understood business side, or at least its current state.

“To Trust Someone is Good; To Not Trust Someone is Even Better”

I first heard the above quote at a SIMC meeting on security and PKI in 1999. Eliot Solomon, who does a great job of keeping SIMC running and vital, always has to remind me that it was Sholom Bryski who said it as part of his presentation at the SIMC meeting. (At the time, Sholom was CTO of Bankers Trust. If I recall correctly, Sholom was actually quoting a previous boss of his, but neither Eliot nor I can remember who Sholom was quoting.)

I love the quote because it sums up the business context for trust very nicely. In the business world, “trust” is actually about the process of eliminating the need for trust. (Which further explains Blakley’s quote.) In other words, for businesses,the term “trust” is really shorthand for surety and risk management.

Here’s how we at Burton Group define “trust” in the business context: “The willingness of a party to take action based on its relationship with another party.” Far from being based on a “warm and fuzzy” feeling, any given party’s “willingness” is based on seven building blocks that help businesses compose secure relationships. As you can see in the graphic below, from the bottom up, these building blocks are: existing business relationships, legal agreements, cryptographic key management, assertions, shared policy, technical assurance, and audit and accreditation. (In the credit where credit is due department, Trent Henry and Dan Blum worked very hard on the report and background research I'm summarizing here.)


All of these building blocks aren’t necessary in every relationship, nor do they need to be equally strong in all cases. And the building blocks tend to combine differently in different relationships. If an enterprise outsources an important function, for example, a contract (the legal agreement) should define service levels and what constitutes a breach. That will give the enterprise legal recourse if the service provider fails to fulfill its contractual duties. But let’s say the enterprise in question is a bank. If the service provider’s failure could cause the bank to fall out of compliance with regulations such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, then the bank is still on the hook, legally speaking, regardless of what the outsourcing contract says. Thus, as is often the case, a legal agreement alone is not enough. In such situations, a bank may want the outsourcer to undergo a SAS 70 audit of the shared domain to establish necessary levels of assurance.

The point of these examples is to underscore my earlier assertion that, in the business context, “trust” is really about reducing the need for trust. In many cases, what makes e-business relationships work is the process of disclaiming liability, assigning liability, and creating a legal framework for business transactions, including dispute resolution. Businesses do this so they don’t have to trust each other. They build enough legal and policy structure to manage and reduce the risk of doing business to acceptable levels. They know that if things go south, they can fall back on the legal contracts and other structure that define the “trusted” relationship.

When you consider these factors, I think you can see why Kim is uncomfortable using the term “trust,” especially to a social context. At a minimum, then, we need to start defining how the social context is different (and the same) and how notions of “trust” change in that context.

Speaking of legal contracts, I don't think I've ever seen one that talks about me “trusting” someone. The agreements I have signed describe particular commitments and obligations – and were put in place precisely because of Bob Blakely's excellent dictum. Let's go further. Has anyone ever had a lawyer employ a metaphor of trust? My friends who are lawyers see contracts in terms of risk and exposure.

I had always thought the “trust” word had a geek etymology – but suspect Jamie is right that it achieved acceptance through PKIX marketecture rather than reason. Regardless, it caught on. And it was a good enough first approximation that legal thinkers came to understand the issues being raised. Getting them on board was a precondition to making our technologies more than pipedreams, so the vocabulary of “trust” served an important purpose.

But nowadays we have scholars and jurists like Lawrence Lessig and Daniel Solove (and their counterparts outside the United States) who can help us refine this thinking and reinvent the vocabulary. I hope to see a broad collaboration with legal scholars to take this thinking forward and replace our geek vocabulary with concepts that blend with the rest of the “legal architecture” (to quote Daniel). I'm working with others in the industry to garner support for projects that might accelerate this. Wouldn't that be something?

Oh yeah. Then there is this standard that is called, er, “WS-Trust”. Maybe that's why Jamie has let me get away with prodding everyone with my pitchfork. At the end of the day, I'm poking myself!

But here's the truth, folks. You all know I'm above all an advocate for identity aligned with the objective laws that define it.

One day I went to a meeting where people first talked about WS-Trust and I said to one of my buddies, “I don't believe it. They've got a claims transformer…” It's not like this was a new idea to me. Ive been working – on and off – on concrete technologies to do this since the mid 1990s.

But the WS-Trust proponents had reached agreement across a bunch of really smart collaborators from a group of equally smart companies (and a lot of informal collaborators as well). They had achieved a level of architectural clarity I found very impressive. I'll review WS-Trust some other day.

After the meeting, I was ordering champagne left, right and center. Of course I don't drink champagne, but my friends had fun…

Putting the right protocols in place can happen in a matter of months. If we do this we can evolve people's understanding through practice – rather than theory. I expect there are not many technologists who won't be with me on this.

Over the years maybe we can fix the “Trust” moniker in the standard name – and maybe Jamie can fix it in the Burton Group strategy documents.