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posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 08:53 AM // April 05, 2007 // Digital Identity Management | General

In the world of digital cash, not all news is bad news for privacy researchers. The Economist has an article April 4th detailing the emergence of a new generation of payment cards to give Visa and Mastercard a run for their money (pun intended). Among them is Gratiscard, a system that can be used as Credit, Debit, or Prepaid and can be used anonymously:

Taking aim at both of these flaws is GratisCard, a new payments system backed by Steve Case, the founder of AOL, launched later this month. The card, which can function as a debit, credit or prepaid card, is entirely anonymous. A thief who steals one will not find a customer's name or account number on it, nor will a hacker find anything to decode in the card's magnetic strip. Instead, customer data are stored in GratisCard's data centre in Florida and sent to the till only as needed. GratisCard will be the first to use the internet to zip data among merchants and banks. This allows it to side-step the big payment networks and their stiff interchange fees. Merchants that accept GratisCard simply pay a processing fee capped at 0.5% of a transaction.

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Someone has their identity stolen every 4 seconds

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 03:31 PM // March 23, 2007 // Digital Identity Management | General

The Economist has a sponsored article on Identity Theft. Quoting:

A complete identity package, including a permanent resident card (or green card) and a social security card, goes for $150 and takes about 40 minutes to deliver. Armed with those, an illegal immigrant can apply for a driving licence, acquire a bank account, rent an apartment and get a legitimate job.

Full article available HERE.

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Kim Cameron and the Seven Laws of Identity

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 03:10 PM // March 20, 2007 // Digital Identity Management

The Globe is running an interview with Kim Cameron, Microsoft's "Chief Architect of Identity" and author of the Seven Laws of Identity. Quoting:

KIM CAMERON: I thought we needed a multi-centred approach to identity, a user-centric one. My blog was well known, and they chose to put me in a position where I could have a growing influence. But Microsoft is so big, over 60,000 people, and they're very focused. But they were reading my stuff as much as people from outside Microsoft. We all wanted to know how we go forward from this.

Full interview available HERE.

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Anonymity on Wikipedia: Strength or Weakness?

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 10:04 AM // March 16, 2007 // Digital Identity Management | General

The Economist.com reports on the recent revelation that one of Wikipedia's top contributors, Essjay, proved to be a 24 year old college drop-out rather than a professor of religious studies. Still, anonymity lends itself to a meritocratic system despite its potential for misuse. Quoting:

That anonymity creates a phoney equality, which puts cranks and experts on the same footing. The same egalitarian approach starts off by regarding all sources as equal, regardless of merit. If a peer-reviewed journal says one thing and a non-specialist newspaper report another, the Wikipedia entry is likely solemnly to cite them both, saying that the truth is disputed. If the cranky believe the latter and the experts the former, the result will be wearisome online editing wars before something approaching the academic mainstream consensus gains the weight it should.

Complete article available HERE.

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Username and Password: Repeat ad infinitum

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 07:22 PM // March 03, 2007 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | Digital Identity Management | General | TechLife | Walking On the Identity Trail

The Globe's Ivor Tossel has a nice little piece on online identity management entitled: Who do you want to be?.

Tossel writes:

It's a problem that's older than the Web itself. One of the Internet's basic weaknesses is that there's no central way of keeping track of who you are. In real life, we have one identity that we take everywhere (it's the one on your passport, assuming you can get one these days). But there's no virtual passport in cyberspace: People change names online more often than they change underpants. Every time you go to a new website, you have to start the process of identifying yourself all over again.

Interestingly, I spent 45 minutes trying to find my username and password so that I could login to make this blog post.

I also broke my usual prohibition on reading comments and was delighted by the following reader wisdom:

B H from Toronto, Canada writes: 'It's not a bug, it's a feature.'

Well said my friend.

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EPIC Contributions

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 11:46 AM // February 06, 2007 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | Digital Identity Management | General | Walking On the Identity Trail

Three IDTrail students have recently returned from an EPIC retreat in Washington, D.C. The 2nd year law students, Jena McGill, Felix Tang, and myself (Jeremy HL), completed a January term internship at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) where they completed Freedom of Information Act requests, electronic privacy news updates, and a passionate yet well-reasoned comment to the FTC on Identity Theft.

The comment borrows an analysis from the environmental movement and argues that the costs of identity theft should be internalized upon data collectors through technology investments and reductions in overall data collection. A complete copy of our comments is available for download HERE.

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Seeking NSA Romantic Encounters; Not Public Humiliation

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 01:39 PM // September 15, 2006 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | Digital Identity Management | TechLife

After replies to a faked Craigslist personal posting were outed on a website this week, a minor controversy has been brewing over the legality of the posting and the impacts on online trust. The Globe and Mail covered the story here.

The personal ad described a 27 year old woman with long brown hair. In fact, the posting was by a Seattle area graphic designer named Jason Fortuny. He collected the replies, including contact information and images of men in various stages of undress, and posted them to a parody website. This breach of trust, while clearly unethical, doesn't seem to break any laws.

It will be interesting to see how this plays-out. At the very least, you'd think the victims would have a copyright argument. For now, it would be best to follow some age-old advice and "keep your pants on."

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Profiling an ID Thief

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 09:34 AM // July 05, 2006 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | Digital Identity Management

The New York Times has posted an excellent profile of ID thief, Shiva Brent Sharma. He was the first charged under the New York State identify theft statute. The article draws attention to the relative ease with which ID theft is perpetrated and how this simplicity, combined with enormous payoffs, can seduce otherwise bright young people into criminality.

link (thanks Boing Boing)

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A Dignity Worry about Automated Identity Management

posted by:David Matheson // 12:05 PM // May 28, 2006 // Core Concepts: language and labels | Digital Identity Management | Surveillance and social sorting

Consider an extreme proponent of the ancient Greek practical philosophy known as Cynicism. I’ll call him Diogenes, without implying anything about how closely he resembles the historical Cynic of the same name (who, you might recall, once suggested to a fawning Alexander the Great that the greatest honor the king could bestow on him was that of moving a little to the side so that he could continue to soak up the sun’s rays). Our fictitious Diogenes takes the Cynical doctrine of following the lead of nature, and of flouting any inhibitive social conventions, to a shocking level. In a way that might remind a dog-owner of her lovable companion (“Cynic,” after all, comes from kunikos in Greek, meaning “like a dog,” cf. Piering 2006), Diogenes makes no attempt to hide whatever inclinations and desires he happens to find coming his way naturally, and is quite happy to satisfy them whenever and wherever he can. Bodily functions that we would normally consider to be deeply private he carries out in full view of whoever happens to be in his presence. He says whatever comes to mind, regardless of who it might happen to offend or of how it might make him appear to others. Simply put, Diogenes lets it all hang out, always. And he’s convinced that doing so is the true road to happiness.

We might say that Diogenes believes that shame-avoidance -- at least as we commonly think of shame -- stands in the way of human happiness. Or we might say that he presents a formidable challenge to our convictions about the negative value of shame. But it seems to me that, whatever we say on those matters, Diogenes can at least properly be said to be living a shameful life. Even if he couldn’t care less about avoiding shame, and regardless of whether he thinks it’s something to be quite pleased about, Diogenes is in the business of performing one shameful act after another.

It’s interesting to note that this intuitive (to me, at any rate) verdict about Diogenes’s behavior -- it’s shameful -- sits ill at ease with philosophical accounts of shame that render it essentially a matter of sensitivity to the disapproval of others. Consider, for example, the view that an individual’s behavior is an occasion for shame just in case she feels bad about engaging in it when she considers that others disapprove. In this view, Diogenes is not living a life of shame. He knows that others disapprove of his startling behavior, but he doesn’t feel bad in the light of this knowledge, for he thinks that sensitivity to the disapproval is inimical to the prime directive of happiness.

Recently, New York University philosopher J. David Velleman (2001) has presented an alternative account of shame that is more accommodating to the intuitive verdict about Diogenes. According to this account, shame is at its core about failures of selective self-presentation: to say that an individual’s behavior is an occasion for shame, in other words, is to say that she has failed to take adequate care -- failed to manifest appropriate concern -- when it comes to selectively revealing (or, on the flip side, concealing) different aspects of herself in different contexts. Despite the fancy name, the concern for selective self-presentation is a pretty familiar feature of our lives. Indeed, according to some, it’s “among the most important attributes of our humanity.” (Nagel 1998: 4) It’s manifested in everything from such mundane activities as the wearing of clothes in public, retiring to designated rooms for intimate engagements, and taking care not to say everything we think to be true of individuals in their presence, to more elaborate attempts to respect what another NYU philosopher, Helen Nissenbaum (1998) has called “norms of contextual integrity” of personal information, whether in online environments or elsewhere.

If we accept this alternative account of shame, with its focus on failures of selective self-presentation, I think we’re in a good position to explain why Diogenes is living a life of shame. Diogenes can’t be said to be taking adequate care when it comes to selectively revealing different aspects of himself in different contexts, because he really takes no care at all. His starling behavior, given that lack of care, amounts to a radical failure of selective self-presentation, and is thus an occasion for shame.

Of course, occasions for shame need not be as radical as what’s involved in Diogenes’s case. He manifests a general, pervasive, and ongoing lack of concern for selective self-presentation. In more realistic cases, failures of selective self-presentation are considerably more acute, stemming from particular bits of behavior that manifest a temporary lack of care for selective self-presentation against the background of a more general care for it. To illustrate, consider the individual who make an ill-considered, out of character remark that exposes his feelings about another individual to a much larger audience than he intends. His remark can be said to be an occasion for shame because, despite the fact that he generally makes an active effort to reveal such attitudes only to a limited circle of close friends -- thus manifesting a general, ongoing concern for selective self-presentation -- this particular remark has undermined the general effort and thus manifests a temporary carelessness about self-presentation, one that amounts to a relatively small-scale instance of shame.

Notice that the avoidance of shame seems to be centrally tied to human dignity: an individual’s behavior can hardly be dignified if it is an occasion for shame, and dignified behavior seems to preclude shameful behavior. If we accept it, then, the failure of selective self-presentation account of shame would seem to translate into an important insight about human dignity, viz. that manifesting an adequate concern for selective self-presentation, through the active avoidance of failures of selective self-presentation, is a central condition on our dignity.

It seems to me that this insight about human dignity may well ground a worry about certain kinds of identity management technologies that are becoming increasingly prevalent on the contemporary scene. What I have in mind are those technologies that tend to automate the management of users’ identities to a very high degree, by significantly diminishing the users’ active participation in processes of their own identification. Consider, for example, implanted RFID microchips. One of the primary benefits of these technologies is identification convenience: if you’ve got the chip in your arm, the process of being identified in various ways is easier for you than processes involving old-fashioned counterparts. You don’t have to bother with finding the right card, producing the right documentation, providing the right answers to relevant questions, and so on. You just walk on through, and let the chip do your identifying for you. Brin (2004) makes the point in connection with biometric identification systems: “When your car recognizes your face, and all the stores can verify your fingerprints, what need will you have for keys or a credit card?”

Perhaps, however, the convenience of these technologies comes at too high a price on the dignity scale -- at least for those of us who, unlike our fictitious Diogenes, care about human dignity in the relevant sense. For it seems to me that there’s a case to be made that the more we subscribe to automated identity management technologies, the less likely we are to maintain a robust concern for selective self-presentation, because we are more likely to leave the presentation of aspects of ourselves up to the technologies and the systems of which they are a part. And if the insight about human dignity mentioned above is on the right track, this carries as a consequence an increased likelihood of diminishing our dignity as humans.

Diogenes in effect gives up on selective self-presentation by leaving his self-presentation to the hand of nature. Perhaps we should be careful about giving up on our selective self-presentation by leaving our self-presentation to the hand of technology. Our dignity may well be what hangs in the balance.


Brin, David. (2004). “Three Cheers for the Surveillance Society!” Salon, http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/feature/2004/08/04/mortal_gods/index_np.html. Retrieved 26 May 2006

Nagel, Thomas. (1998). “Concealment and Exposure.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 27: 3-30

Nissenbaum, Helen. (1998). “Protecting Privacy in an Information Age: The Problem of Privacy in Public.” Law & Philosophy 17: 559-96

Piering, Julie. (2006). “Cynics.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/c/cynics.htm. Retrieved 25 May 2006

Velleman, J. David. (2001). “The Genesis of Shame.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 30: 27-52

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Ctrl-Shift-Delete: Learn-it, Love-it, Live-it

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 04:59 PM // May 18, 2006 // Commentary &/or random thoughts | Digital Identity Management | TechLife

Clean-up after yourself.

For you privacy-loving web-surfers using Firefox as their browser, there’s a new command to learn: Ctrl-Shift-Delete. This little trick prompts a purge of your browser’s private data. It’ll be like you didn’t spend the day perusing the Internet’s best distractions. And as every employer will attest; a good record is a blank record.

While it is unclear whether a browser really needs to keep any personal data, the content collected seems to grow with every subsequent browser release. As it stands, you’re leaving a long, incriminating trail including your browsing history, saved form information, saved passwords, download history, cookies, cache, and a record of authenticated sessions. Although your body may have been sitting at your desk for the past 8 hours, your browser remembers where you’ve really been.

The fact that such a keyboard shortcut exists is worth noting. Software begins by making a feature available. Usually, this comes in the form of a button buried deep within the assorted menus of a program. Here, only an experienced user will be able to locate and use a program’s abilities. If the functionality proves popular, it migrates through the menus into locations of increasing prominence.

A select few functions prove worthy of a button shortcut. Even fewer receive their own keyboard command. This exclusive list includes the iconic “Save” (ctrl-s), “Copy” (ctrl-c), “Paste” (ctrl-v), and of course “Undo” (ctrl-z). And now, the Mozilla development team has institutionalized a command for privacy. Current versions of Internet Explorer don’t have anything close and it won’t be surprising if Microsoft decides not to follow suit with their release of IE 7.

As your work-day draws to an end and you clear your desk, don’t forget to clear your browser. Make a habit of keeping your private data…private.
Ctrl-Shift-Delete: Learn-it, Love-it, Live-it

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Don't Let Data Theft Happen to You

posted by:Rafal Morek // 09:55 AM // July 02, 2005 // Digital Identity Management

M.P. Dunleavey never expected to become a victim. In his article in the New York Times, he admits that maybe he should have. Companies like Citigroup, Bank of America, ChoicePoint and LexisNexis have lost, misplaced or otherwise exposed the personal information of tens of millions of people. Dunleavey offers the following tips to protect yourself:

- Curtail electronic access to your bank accounts. Pay bills through snail mail. Avoid linking your checking to savings. Use a credit card for purchases rather than a debit card.

- Protect your home computer with a firewall, especially if you have a high-speed connection.

- Restrict the access to your personal data by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov); remove your name and address from the phone book and reverse directories - and, most important, from the marketing lists of the credit bureaus to reduce credit card solicitations. The site www.optoutprescreen.com can help.

- Consider freezing your credit report, an option available in a growing number of states. Freezing prevents anyone from opening up a new credit file in your name (a password lets you gain access to it), and it doesn't otherwise affect your credit rating.

- Rein in your Social Security number. Remove it from your checks, insurance cards and driver's license. Ask your bank not to use it as your identification number. Refuse to give your Social Security number to merchants, and be careful even with medical providers.

Click here for the rest of the article.

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What’s my opinion of you? Opinity.com

posted by:Marty // 05:54 PM // April 20, 2005 // Digital Identity Management

A new service launched today, Opinity, aims to put a new spin on reputation systems. Opinity aggregates qualitative and quantitative data from a variety of reputation sources (think Amazon, e-bay, etc) to provide meta-opinions on internet users. See the press release here.

Any person with an email address or an online ID can participate. Opinity allows individual Internet users to view aggregated data on the past behavior and performance of their peers and to rate a peer's reliability and trustworthiness. Access to this information helps people make educated decisions about the individuals with whom they interact and transact business online. Opinity's universal accountability model motivates Internet users to be professional and honest while discouraging unreliable and unethical behavior by people participating in Internet interactions and transactions.

What concerns me, in light of the cavalcade of database breaches is Opinity’s means of protecting authenticity of information (note the soft set up):

With Opinity's patent-pending Veridem(TM) Technology, the authenticity of a person's own online ID can be safely and securely verified by providing his or her specific UserID, and Password along with the website name where he or she is registered. A user can verify two IDs and provide that information as proof that both are owned by the same person. The importance of verifying user identification (ID) is that it provides a much higher degree of certainty about the reliability and accuracy of user ID information. Therefore, for example, Opinity weights reviews for and by someone with a verified ID much more heavily than reviews done without ID verification.

Actually, there is a lot more that concerns me: Who in their right mind would supply Opinity with the user name and password with the site that they are registered under. With this information, 1) Opinity can log into the account and play around, cull transaction or other information and likely credit card information, and 2) if they don’t do these things, with the information lying around in their database, someone else will.


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DNA - Distributed Networking Attack - and Encryption

posted by:Alison Gardner Biggs // 11:48 PM // March 28, 2005 // Digital Identity Management

The U.S. Secret Service is employing a new technique to break encryption on seized hardware. "DNA" links together 4,000 computers which are configured to try different password combinations against a series of encryption keys. Critical to their success is the "human factor" - that most users do not follow recommended advice to pick a strong, alphanumeric or random password. Combining the new computing techniques and information gathered on suspects, encryption is much simpler to break.

Of interest in the story also is just how easy your passwords may be to break: between 40 and 50 percent of the time investigators can crack an encryption key by creating word lists from content at sites listed in the suspect's Internet browser log or Web site bookmarks.

The full story can be found here .

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Apple Can Demand Names of Bloggers, Judge Says

posted by:Jennifer Manning // 10:34 AM // March 13, 2005 // Digital Identity Management

A California judge ruled Friday that Apple Computer has the right to subpoena the names of sources and documents relating to confidential company information that was published late last year by three Web sites.

Apple's interest in protecting its trade secrets was found to outweigh the public's right to information about Apple and the right of bloggers to disseminate it.

Click here for the NY Times article.

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posted by:Ian Kerr // 04:15 PM // January 21, 2005 // Digital Activism and Advocacy | Digital Identity Management | TechLife

just before the winter break, a few of us from on the identity trial and cippic were contacted by folks at ciphire labs about a new crypto product that sounded too good to be true.

ciphire mail, "a new and soon-to-be-open-source application," promises strong and user-friendly e-mail authentication and encryption.

in addition to promising to release the source code, ciphire is free for individual users, nonprofit organizations and the press. it is used in conjunction with standard e-mail programs and operates almost invisibly in the background, encrypting and decrypting e-mail and digitally signing each message to confirm its source.

i have been using it, seamlessly, for about a month now and like it very much! the folks at ciphire have been very generous with us and have provided excellent service and support (though there really isn't much to support, once up and running!!)

for those who might be interested in reading further on this, check out this interesting story on ciphire in wired from yesterday.

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