The BBC’s Reith Lectures for 2016 are underway and this year they are presented by philosopher and cultural theorist Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah under the title of “Mistaken Identity”. At a time where identity is endlessly discussed and defined – Republican or Democrat, pro-EU or Brexit, gay or straight, the four lectures will cover aspects of identity; Creed, Country, Colour and Culture and show that identity isn’t a binary choice between one adjective or another.
Kwame Anthony Appiah says: “We live in a world where the language of identity pervades both our public and our private lives. We are Muslim and Christian, so we have religious identities. We are English and Scottish, so we have national identities. We are men and women, and so we have gender identities. And we are black and white, and so we have racial identities. There is much contention about the boundaries of all of these identities. Not everyone accepts that you have to be a man or a woman; or that you can’t be both an Englishman and a Scot. You can claim to be of no religion or gender or race or nation. Perhaps, in each case, someone will believe you. And that is one reason why the way we often talk about these identities can be misleading.”
Two of the programmes have already been broadcast, Creed and Country, and are available online or as podcasts for download. I found both episodes interesting: Creed for its historical perspective on religions and how in the past religion was more of a verb than noun, and Country appealed to me as an individual who can legitimately claim some level of citizenship with four different countries (where my parents are from, where I was born, where I grew up and where I have lived the longest). Prof Appiah is an entertaining speaker and there’s a good deal of fun and wit in among the insights.
Put aside the tech news for an hour and consider something more profound than the latest product refresh from Apple.
This week the Department of Commerce issued a proposal to create an on line trusted identity system. According to the Commerce Department it would encourage a greater trust in providing information online to individuals by businesses and visa versa. There would be multiple partners in this program, they are as follows:
- The Individual–to be issued digital identities to complete transactions.
- The Non-Person Entity (NPE)‚such as organizations and services who would require authentication.
- The Identity Provider‚who is responsible for the processes involved in enrolling subjects (individuals and NPEs) in the system.
- The Attribute Provider‚who oversees the processes involved in creating, validating, and keeping up the attributes associated with identities, such as age.
- The Relying Party‚who makes transaction decisions based on the receipt of a subject’s credentials.
- The Trustmark‚ some kind of image, logo, badge, or seal that authenticates participation in the Identity Ecosystem.
- And finally, the Governance Authority, which oversees and maintains the Ecosystem Framework.
They insist this is not a national identity system. They say it will be a way that individuals and companies can be sure that who they are doing business with is who they say they are. If this system existed then there wouldn’t be a need for multiple passports or sign ins. Private companies would run the program, but the government would have a large part in it. This is just a proposal and would have to go through multiple steps before coming a reality. However, alarm bells are already going off on my head
The first problem is it’s a large data base, which means it’s vulnerable to hackers. Second it’s unnecessary, we have plenty of private companies who provide this service, think Facebook Connect, Google, Open ID, are they perfect, no, but they already exist. Third it would be expensive and it just mean more red tape for businesses. Fourth it’s not a job for government to solve.
Finally, I don’t trust the government when it comes to how they plan to use the information once they have it. There would be too big of a temptation to misuse it. I truly believe that the commerce sec is sincere when he says this is not for a national identity card however the leap is too short for me. This would also make it easier for individuals to be tracked by the government or business. The paranoid part of me tells me this has nothing to do with private security and every thing to do with national security.
I have surrendered control of my personal identity to the internet. I was listening to an audio book the other day when the author said, “The internet never forgets.” Once your information is on the web it is there for good. Think of the information social websites like MySpace and Facebook has. You upload your pictures, reveal your emotions in status updates, write notes, comment on other people, etc. Every friend of yours sees and reads all that information. They download your photos and re-write your thoughts. If you blog then portions, if not all, of your site will be held in cache somewhere in the world forever. The internet never forgets.
The web is like a data miner pulling bits of information from you and then reassembling them through Google. It makes me wonder how much longer security questions for websites will even work. I think everyone probably knows my mother’s maiden name by now. What I am getting at is this: I have surrendered control of my personal identity to the internet. Or perhaps, the social websites slyly took it away from me. I thought the social web was helping me connect with other people, but it really was stripping me of control.
As diligent as I am about revealing information about myself on the web, I am afraid that I have lost control of my identity. Will the day come when we need the equivalent of a DMCA takedown for personal information? Who really owns the right of displaying that personal information? The greatest form of identity theft may not be the loss of my bank information but the loss of my ability to control my basic identity.