Enter the Matrix

secure_keyVia Helena Kalin and Steven Sudit, Natasha Singer writes for the New York Times on upcoming online identification legislation:

The Open Identity Exchange, a group of companies including AT&T, Google, Paypal, Symantec and Verizon, is helping to develop certification standards for online identity authentication; it believes that industry can address privacy issues through self-regulation. The government has pledged to be an early adopter of the cyber IDs.

Google, meanwhile, already has a free system, called the “Google Identity Toolkit,” for Web site operators who want to shift users from passwords to third-party authentication. It’s the kind of platform that makes Google poised to become a major player in identity authentication.

It’s kind of interesting that as offensive all this feels to me, I also know it’s inevitable. How do I know it’s inevitable?

  1. It’s too convenient to not see it happen.
    • People worry about identity theft all the time. If, and I mean *IF* they can provide secure systems, it would probably boost identity safety instead of making it more likely. Why? It’s so god damn easy to steal a social security number and driver’s license number. Credit cards and passwords come easy, too. People are lazy and give that information away, not really thinking too hard about identity safety.
  2. If it can be coupled with biometric identification devices, it’s going to be very, very secure.
    • The cheaper the technology becomes, the sooner biometric identification comes standard in all devices. Eye scanning, finger printing, and voice identification are all technically possible with current technology in touch-sensitive devices. With Windows 8, touchscreen monitors for desktops are going to become more popular; Apple is also heading in this direction with their swipe technology.
  3. I saw it in a movie.
    • No really, that’s a very good reason to believe it’s inevitable. Look around you. Tablets, smartphones, _soma_, teleconferencing, cloning, GMOs, Nike Mags. They’re all here. They may not be as perfect as we envisioned them and the prophesied decade or century might be off, but no science fiction writer can be perfect.

While 3 might seem sad, how cool is it anyway? And, I’m sorry, but people really are god damn lazy and irresponsible; if we can create secure systems (and yes, I know, no system can be totally secure), it’s all scare tactics.

I still find it offensive and rather depressing that it’s inevitable, though. We are going to need many reforms in order to protect people if we are going to have verified online identifications. I still think it leaves room for pseudonyms and technical anonymity if online services can verify identities but leave those identities encapsulated from public knowledge.

Twitter can go ahead and verify people’s identities even while allowing me to be known as nothing more than KhalMojo. Twitter may know my identity, but it doesn’t have to let the public know what my real name is any more than Google has to publicly advertise my credit card information. We can still have multiple tier identification to protect people with sensitive situations – abused women, politically vocal voters, furries.

It’s offensive because we don’t have any guarantees and we won’t have any until whatever online identification system we create shows its flaws and people get hurt by it. Hopefully the answer won’t be to take a soma and forget about it.

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