No, this isn't a blog about that jobsworth bouncer at a Toronto bar who tried to stop me entering the Misys party at last year's Sibos (However, I did say 'I'm sooo Tweeting this!', before my colleague intervened - oh the shame....)
Anyway, I attended the always entertaining CSFI/Visa Europe roundtable last Thursday on digital identity. The meetings are under the Chatham House Rule, so I can't offer you lovely readers any juicy direct quotes, but I can blog away about what went on (that
is fully within the spirit of the Rule, which was never meant to make a meeting private-if you don't believe me look it up)
The roundtable focused on digital identity, and more specifically, how you identify yourself legally - such as when dealing with government agencies and your bank.
Of course we all talked about dongles, two-factor identification, those little, bank-issued, password generator calculator things, what is not exactly happening with Project Gaia in the UK, as well as chatted about biometrics and "brain-wave identification".
(That will be fun to see happen. I wonder how the public will react to a request from the likes of HSBC and Barclays to hook up with your cerebral cortex?)
The most vocal part of the roundtable came when people started discussing using third party systems or 'social sign-in', such as signing in via Amazon, or *gasp* Facebook, to gain access to pension information or your bank.
Seriously, voices were raised, fists were pounded on the table, literally, and people barked back and forth saying things like: "There is a difference between soft identity and hard legal identity!", "You have no idea how banking really works!”, “I lock
down my Facebook to the highest degree!"
...and my personal favourite:
"A terrorist could log into my bank!"
Which was met with a chorus of "That's not what we are saying AT ALL!"
To be fair no one was arguing that banks should allow (or even could allow) clients to log into their bank via Facebook and then be immediately approved for £500k mortgage on a house in Wandsworth-I mean, it's not 2005 anymore, people.
But I was intrigued by the bank-side folks getting so worked up about 'hard identification' and dismissing 'soft and fluffy' identification coming in from the likes of Amazon and Facebook. I'll tell you why.
I'm not native to these sceptre isles. I arrived in London on a cold wintery January in 1997, with three suitcases, a full-time job, and no bank account. (My pre-move conversation with Chase Manhattan Bank in New York about what they could offer a customer
who was moving to London for 'one or two years' was met with a 'huh?').
So after two weeks working in London, I had:
- A national insurance number
- A full-time job
- An address
- A zone 1-3 travel card
- A paycheck
What I didn't have was:
- Two utility bills for an address I'd lived in for over three months
Which meant I couldn't get a:
Which means I couldn't (see where I'm going with this?):
I went to several different high street banks eager to open a bank account, which would issue me with cheques, a debit card, an overdraft etc... so I could start buying rounds in the pub and basically contributing to the British economy. I was met with the
same response at EVERY SINGLE BANK. "If you can't produce two utility bills, you can't open a bank account."
I'm sorry, how is that 'hard' identification? How can that be better than doing an initial sign-in with something like Facebook?
In 1997, the US-based financial director of my company had to call up the bank manager of the UK bank they did business with to beg them to give me a bank account. Seriously. Now, 15 years later, I am in full possession of a checking/savings account, ISAs,
credit cards, child's trust fund and a mortgage (and a mobile phone). I thought, 'Today, in the 21st Century, UK banks couldn't possibly throw a young girl, looking to make it big in the world of journalism, out on the pavement without so much as a free pen
But just a few months ago, I was talking with an American woman who had just transferred from her company's Los Angeles office to the London office. Practically, the first words out of her mouth to me about her first month in London were "I don't seem to
be able to open a bank account..." This was 2011 - at least Facebook exists now.
For the record, personally, I'm not a big fan of signing in with Facebook - I'm hoping the issue of digital identity is solved by a digital wrap that is unique, and controlled, by each person-sort of a digital passport. But my point remains; a Facebook or
Amazon sign-in is practically on par with "produce two utility bills" (and more likely to identify a newly arrived ex-pat) - so why all the big fuss?
Issues around digital identity will become increasingly urgent as the years move on and our already digitalised society continues its forward march towards a utopia ruled by robot overlords. Given the social, technical and political issues around identity
- YOUR identity - I predict we shall see a lot more barking and fist slamming in rooms for some time to come.