Saturday, April 13, 2002

8/11/2006; 2:31:24 AM

Thoughts on Digital Identity ...
I read the following article and immediately visited the new DigitalIDWorld web site ... it's a very good start. I read a number of their posts, and had the following thoughts that I forwarded to Andre ...

This is a very powerful conversation, and I like the way that you have started to examine identity. I would really enjoy exploring this entire space with you as I have done some extensive thinking about digital identity over the last several years.

For some background, I was the original architect of digitalme at Novell several years ago. This project was the result of my research into directories and presence/instant messaging and how they relate to, and can be used in, digital identity management. Since leaving Novell I have continued my research and development of digital identity and identity management applications.

One of the core issues that I came across in my original research was that identity was always related to communities or organizations. Your "tiers" also indicate that you are on the same track. You are moving down some of the same paths that we explored when creating digitalme ... that there are many different forms of identity. I want to offer some of my current frameworks and "axioms" for an extended conversation to explore this further.

  • Consider the possibility that no one has any inherent identity. Identity is not something that we have, it is something that we are given by others ... usually communities or organizations. If you were to examine the Latin roots of the word "identity" you would find that it comes from "similar to" or "same as". In our modern world we have failed to distinguish this subtle aspect of our own language. If we view a part of our identity as something that we are "similar to", then we can see that we are not "6 feet tall", but instead we are "similar to something that a bunch of us call 6 feet tall". In my opinion, this is one of the most important distinctions in exploring identity because it then begs the questions "Then how did I get to be 6 feet tall?" and "Who is this 'bunch of us' that are saying I'm 6 feet tall?"
  • Consider the possibility that all of our identity is given to us by the various communities that we are a member of ... including our families. Attributes of identity are all forms of language and measurement of an individual ... comparisons to concepts that are known to a community. Again, some group of people made the choice that a "foot" was the term used to name the length of a physical piece of material. That same group also gave the name "six" to a specific count of elements, and when combining the two and looking at you they said that you are "six feet". If we were to leave the context of this community and travel to a foreign land we might find that they do not have a "foot" and so that identity of yours doesn't even exist to them. This then opens up the conversation about context of identity.
  • Consider the possibility that you have no identity outside the context of a community. Every attribute of your identity only exists within the context of the community that gave it to you. It might exist in another community, however only if that community has a relationship with the community that gave you that identity. For example, in the United States you have a Social Security Number, and it only exists in the context of the US. Since my bank has a relationship with the US, and they have also been given a Federal Tax ID number, these attributes of identity exist for us both in the context of the US and in our business relationship. Likewise, since many communities have adopted the common identity measurement of height using feet, my height is valid in the context of numerous communities around the world.
  • Consider the possibility that you started to accumulate identity the moment that you were conceived, and will continue to accumulate identity after you have died! Again, if we agree that identity is given to you by the communities that you interact with, then that interaction began upon conception, and people will continue to give you identity in their conversations about you after you die. If we go back to when you were born the community of your family gave you what we think is the first piece of identity that you get ... your name! In most cases though, the delivering doctor or nurse might have already started to give you identity before your name by defining the medical and physical attributes about you before handing you to your parents! In addition, after you die, there are all of the documents and certificates that are generated that people will assign to you ... adding to your identity. If they then start to clean out your house, they might find things that you left behind that continue to be added to your identity!
  • Consider the possibility that real identity management will become a reality when we can create applications which will accumulate your entire lifetime of identity, managing the relationships with the communities that gave identity to me. These applications will automate the process of requesting and granting identity, keeping identity information in sync, and allowing for historical searching of identity. (What were my last three addresses for this credit app?)
I believe that there is an abstraction of identity that we have created that allows us to view your three tiers as one and the same. This is really an exploration of the fundamentals of the human experience, and an ontological study. If we step back and truly examine what it is to be human, and a part of various communities, then a solid model for digital identity management begins to emerge. What's funny is that the process of identity creation and granting has been going on since humans existed and they are all around us. Most people just don't see them because they have become so commonplace.

These are the areas that I have been researching and developing solutions. I currently have my third generation of an application that begins to define the high-level "protocol" of identity transactions, and then the accumulation and management of that information.

I look forward to discussing these subjects further with you!

Scott C. Lemon

RFC: Sponsored Feature Section on Digital Identity. I have a proposal for the site, that I'd like your comments and thoughts on. founder Andre Durand and ISPCON founder Phil Becker recently started a new website called K5er Adam Theo is also working with them, and thought that the subject of digital identity would be something other K5ers might have some interest in, and perhaps we could arrange some kind of syndication agreement. I talked to Andre and Phil a few times, and below is what we came up with. We all think it has a lot of potential, but as always, you make the final call as to what's good for K5. So read on for the idea, and let us know what you think of it. []


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