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What Do You Want In Identity?

I thought I'd start again with a theoretical discussion to try and stimulate a little thought on what we want from 'identity'.  What is identity? Answers gives us:

  1. The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known (by others).
  2. The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
  3. The quality or condition of being the same as something else.
  4. The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality.
  5. Information, such as an identification number, used to establish or prove a person's individuality, as in providing access to a credit account.
  6. Mathematics.
    1. An equation that is satisfied by any number that replaces the letter for which the equation is defined.
    2. Identity element.

It probably isn't easy to get identity into a single sentence.

Number 1 is too broad for our purposes, number 2 is also, although marketers might disagree.

Number 3 is confusing isn't it? In a sense it applies. In some ways we are the same, we all breath air and drink water, and should probably have equal rights to do so, the same equality of rights that perhaps should apply to ID.

Number 4 is close, but number 5 just got us a lot of fraud - failure.

Number 6, although abstract might be combined with 4.

Most other definitions focus on 'sameness'.

Perhaps for our purposes it is more productive to think of identity as the things that make you different, and the 'sameness' should be in the right to bear an identity. If John Adams had been thinking further ahead he might have substituted it for the right to bear arms in the US Constitution. Without an ID, bearing arms is probably sensible.

To accumulate wealth we need identity. If we can't physically carry wealth around with us, it needs to be attached to us somehow.

A criminal may prefer multiple identities, so that their actions cannot be attached to them, or even just no identity.

A government needs to know who has paid their way or been paid.

Anyone involved in lending or payments of any kind needs identity before their business can spread beyond a neighbourhood loansharking operation working on personal recognition. Apparently even that isn't enough to guarantee success, 'associates' are needed to track down geographically agile defaulters. Banks are in a similar position. Thus we have credit reference clubs and agencies.

Any business or relationship extending beyond line of sight requires identity - that part of 'identity' which sets us apart from others.

In a global world, it is essential infrastructure. Should it be impartial?

Should it be ubiquitous? Should it be free?

The answer is probably yes to all of the above, at least in some cases.

Can identity be denied upon religious or political beliefs? Race, Colour? Sex?

Who shouldn't be allowed to have an identity?

Do we make the homeless street beggar pay to prove he is penniless or even that he 'is'?

Should the emerging world citizen have to pay to participate before they even have an economy or means to receive payments?

Must we have a bank account in order to have an identity?

On the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights we see the majority of the world's citizens with little or no rights. Who are they? We don't really know because most of them have no identity.

Clearly identity should be something beyond states, and if you don't have one then there's little chance you'll ever have any rights, nor be able to accumulate more than you can carry with you.

Anyone with any understanding of commerce and economy could hardly argue against the need for an identity to participate in today's global economy. We already know why it is so important to each of us.

Just what should it be? Clearly it has to work in real-time in the real world with real people and be almost free.

Of course dictators and despots, criminals, hackers and thieves probably think we are doing just fine the way it is now, letting them give, take, borrow or sell identities as they please.

You tell me what identity needs to be, and a timeline and cost for delivery.



I revisited a few Identity Prognosticators including Kim's Seven Laws of Identity at the prompting of some helpful readers.

I prefer my own.  I'm sure there are more in the context of my questions above, but here are my 'technical four':

1. The system must not ever disclose any personal information (because it can't ever have any, the identity arbiter must not even know the name of the identity, nor any alias that the individual might choose to use).

2. The identity/authentication process must be two-way and many-ways in person and at any distance.

3. The identity process must be simple, easy to change/reset and manage and the arbiter completely independent and operate in a transparent and consistent manner for all.

4. The process must be provided at the lowest possible cost to enable maximum benefits and breadth of application.

Done. That's the easy part, what about the ethical considerations?


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