Digital Identity Management
Scott C. Lemon, Exploring Identity in the Internet Age


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FreeID.Org - Third Axiom of Identity by Scott C. Lemon

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I've written and rewritten this post too many times ... all the way through Christmas and the New Year. It's time to post it and get on to the next ... ;-)

It is very cool to see all of the people that are joining this conversation about Identity. And I do like the "lead" that Kim is taking in driving towards an actual software solution ... actual implementations. I have a few comments on his Fouth Law of Identity, however I wanted to throw out this Axiom to address his request:

I would like to hear more of Scott Lemon's ideas about how philosophical thinkers can help us figure out ways we can write software that intuits - this is my word and perhaps it is too rhetorical - our identity decisions for us... [Kim Cameron's Identity Weblog]
I'll throw out my next Axiom ... and then some scenarios on how things might occur:
I posit that identity is exchanged in transactions that occur within a context of trust and authentication.
So what does this mean? It means that we are constantly exchanging identity information throughout each and every day. Most of these exchanges are so transparent to us ... completely implicit and automatic. The world around us is filled with "providers" and "consumers". We ourselves are both ... at the same time. We have, over the years, also developed a keen sense of "awareness" of the providers of services that we want ... or how to find them. We have also developed a long list of "trusted sources" of services. This sets up the basic foundation for an identity transaction, and it's context.

I move to a new town, and I want to rent an apartment. I find some apartments that meet my requirements, and then visit the apartment complex. They hand me a rental application, and I fill out all of the information. I give it back to them ... a day later they call me and indicate that I have been accepted as a tenant. I then visit the apartments again, sign more papers and get the keys.
In this scenario, what exactly is going on with respect to identity? This is really no different from the Polycomm and Cell Phone scenario that Kim has been using.

The rental agreement is actually the interesting transaction to me. It touches on most of the core aspects of identity transactions. First, a rental agreement is actually a request for identity information. More importantly, it is a request for pieces of my identity along with the references, or communities, that can be used to "authenticate" that identity information. They want to know how much money I make, and also where I am working. They want to know the last three places that I lived or rented. They can choose to trust the information I provide, or more likely they will "verify the authenticity" of that information with my references.
I have the option of locating trusted sources and gathering background information on the apartment complex. The apartment complex gives me a rental application to gather my background identity information and verifying my "trustworthiness." In most cases, I simply "trust" the apartment complex, and do little to look at their reputation. The apartment complex uses a process to authenticate the identity information that I have provided with their own trusted sources.
Some of my information is provided with "implicit" references to the "definitive authorities" of that information. My Social Security number, or drivers license state and number. Both of these are understood to represent information that may be authenticated with government agencies. Likewise, there are attributes that allow the apartment complex to do a credit check with various credit agencies. My job however has to be authenticated with my employer. So when you truly look at what any paper job application, loan application, etc. represents, it's actually a request for identity information along with the information necessary to provide a context ... to authenticate the information ... if so desired.
It would be great to apply for the apartment on-line, and have the information automatically filled in - if it is known and recognized - by identity software running on my PC. If the identity software recognized field names, it would fill in the appropriate information from my personal identity store (Personal Directory?), and if it didn't recognize the names, then it would allow me to create global or site-specific aliases for the fields. In addition, I would be able to review the information being sent, and even temporarily or permanently change what is being sent.
This is where I see a lot of value for digital identity software to solve a real-world problem. Yes, single sign-on is one place, but the world of paper 'applications' that request all sorts of redundant and mundane information is very inefficient and tedious. On top of that, most of these paper forms are asking us for the same information, and a lot of past historical information that we are expected to memorize! What are your last three addresses? What are your last three jobs? When was your last tetanus shot? Who is your insurance company?

If I answer the question once, it seems that my own little personal identity agent could record my answer ... so that the next time I am asked for that information it would be "pre-populated" in the form. This is exactly what the browser 'form filling' solutions do ... so why not expand this extensively?

Once I have completed the apartment rental application, I probably would not want to always keep them up to date with this information forever. However, there are many cases where I *DO* want to keep someone up to date. When someone asks for my business card, I ought to be able to send it to them, and tell my personal identity agent to prompt me if I every change that information. The prompt would be something simple like "Scott, you just changed your home address ... you asked me to always notify this one group of people (so I already did!), and you also asked me to prompt you about this group of people ... can you choose the ones that you want it sent to?"
This is really where we wanted to move with digitalMe ... and it is far from the software doing things automatically without instruction. It is more that during the various identity transactions that we experience, the identity software would be accumulating a set of 'rules' that we design to determine how future transactions might occur.

So this is almost like taking the simple form filling that we have today, putting a real identity store behind it, and coupling it with a 'learning' rules engine similar to the learning firewalls that are available today. If we then add support for the various identity protocols that are growing in momentum we have a very flexible tool that automates much of the work that we do today in these identity transactions.

12:22:09 PM    

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