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« An idea for the Independent Commission on Banking | Main | It's all fun and games, until... no, wait, it is all fun and games »

What do they want us to do?

By Dave Birch posted May 26 2011 at 8:08 AM

What do the politicians, regulators, police and the rest of them want us (technologists) to do about the interweb tubes? It might be easier to work out what to do if we had a clear set of requirements from them. Then, when confronted with a problem such as, for example, identity theft, we could build systems to make things better. In that particular case, things are currently getting worse.

Mr Bowron told the MPs this week that although recovery rates were relatively low, the police detection rate was 80 per cent. However, the number of cases is rising sharply with nearly 2m people affected by identity fraud every year.

[From FT.com / UK / Politics & policy - MP calls cybercrime Moriarty v PC Plod]

So, again, to pick on this paricular case, what should be done?

Mr Head also clarified his position on the safety of internet banking, insisting that while traditional face-to-face banking was a better guarantee against fraud, he accepted that society had moved on. “If you take precautions, it’s safe,” he said.

[From FT.com / UK / Politics & policy - MP calls cybercrime Moriarty v PC Plod]

Yet I remember reading in The Daily Telegraph (just googled it: 20th November 2010) there was a story about an eBay fraud perpetrated by fraudsters who set up bank accounts using forged identity documents, so face-to-face FTF does not, as far as I can see, mean any improvement in security at all. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it is worse than nothing, because people are easier to fool than computers. I would argue that Mr. Head has things exactly wrong here, because we an integrated identity infrastructure should not discriminate between FTF and remote transactions.

I think this sort of thing is actually representative of a much bigger problem around the online world. Here's another example. Bob Gourley. the former CTO of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, poses a fundamental and important question about the future identity infrastructure.

We must have ways to protect anonymity of good people, but not allow anonymity of bad people. This is going to be much harder to do than it is to say. I believe a structure could be put in place, with massive engineering, where all people are given some means to stay anonymous, but when a certain key is applied, their cloak can be peeled back. Hmmm. Who wants to keep those keys

[From A CTO analysis: Hillary Clinton's speech on Internet freedom | IT Leadership | TechRepublic.com]

So, just to recap, Hillary says that we need an infrastructure that stops crime but allows free assembly. I have no idea how to square that circle, except to say that prevention and detection of crime ought to be feasible even with anonymity, which is the most obvious and basic way to protect free speech, free assembly and whistleblowers: it means doing more police work, naturally, but it can be done. By comparison, "knee jerk" reactions, attempting to force the physical world's limited and simplistic identity model into cyberspace, will certainly have unintended consequences.

Facebook's real-name-only approach is non-negotiable – despite claims that it puts political activists at risk, one of its senior policy execs said this morning.

[From Facebook's position on real names not negotiable for dissidents • The Register]

I've had a Facebook account for quite a while, and it's not in my "real" name. My friends know that John Q. Doe is me, so we're linked and can happily communicate, but no-one else does. Which suits me fine. If my real name is actually Dave bin Laden, Hammer of the Infidel, but I register as John Smith, how on Earth are Facebook supposed to know whether "John Smith" is a "real" name or not? Ludicrous, and just another example of how broken the whole identity realm actually is.

For Facebook to actually check the real names, and then to accept the liabilities that will inevitably result, would be expensive and pointless even if it could be achieved. A much better solution is for Facebook to help to the construction and adoption of a proper digital identity infrastructure (such as USTIC, for example) and then use it.

The implementation of NSTIC could force some companies, like Facebook, to change the way it does business.

[From Wave of the Future: Trusted Identities In Cyberspace]

That's true, but it's a good thing, and it's good for Facebook as well as for other businesses and society as a whole. So, for example, I might use a persistent pseudonymous identity given to me by a mobile operator, say Vodafone UK. If I use that identity to obtain a Facebook identity, that's fine by Facebook: they have a certificate from Vodafone UK to say that I'm a UK citizen or whatever. I use the Vodafone example advisedly, because it seems to me that mobile operators would be the natural providers of these kinds of credentials, having both the mechanism to interact FTF (shops) and remotely, as well as access to the SIM for key storage and authentication. Authentication is part of the story too.

But perhaps the US government’s four convenient “levels of assurance” (LOAs), which tie strong authentication to strong identity proofing, don’t apply to every use case under the sun. On the recent teleconference where I discussed these findings, we ended up looking at the example of World of Warcraft, which offers strong authentication but had to back off strong proofing.

[From Identity Assurance Means Never Having To Say “Who Are You, Again?” | Forrester Blogs]

Eve is, naturally, absolutely right to highlight this. There is no need for Facebook to know who I really am if I can prove that Vodafone know who I am (and, importantly, that I'm over 13, although they may not be for much longer given Mr. Zuckerberg's recent comments on age limits).

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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