Sunday, July 04, 2010

Would a "voluntary" ID mechanism serve as an "Internet driver's license"? Goodbye, anonymity?

Here’s an important story that brushes on the “Internet driver’s license” proposal in the New York Times today (July 4) in the Review Section), p 3, “Taking the Mystery Out of Web Anonymity,” link (web url) here. The article calls it the Web’s “Dog Problem”: a dog can be impersonated by a cat. (Sounds like Twilight, doesn’t it?)

I probably overreach by mentioning the license issue, but so does the article. But the bigger idea is the idea of a “voluntary” scheme (a kind of “Web-of-trust” approach, borrowing from the name of an increasingly popular website rating facility now built into Mozilla). That is, you have some kind of ID card or key, linkable to a fingerprint perhaps, but not easily linked to your name and home address if you don’t want it to be. It’s hardly clear to me that this is feasible or realistic.

But the Obama administration is somewhat pushing this as more tasty than a government issued “Internet driver’s license”. But there is a problem in that any such scheme brings up the question as to what responsibilities the individual has to keep his “ID key” or license. Does he have to pass a test demonstrating knowledge of Internet safety and use of antivirus software? Does he have to indemnify others against downstream liability? Could he be suspended if he were somehow “framed” for a spam attack?

Also, how do you move the ID key to a different computer? Do you have the same key at home as at work? What about public computers at libraries or Kinkos?

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