Introduction

“Today’s privacy and compliance practices have their origins in the 1970s, before the Internet, mobile phones, the Internet of Things, machine learning, Big Data, and not least, Bitcoin. It is a very, very different world now. Yet, today we are still trying to shoehorn today’s rambunctious and evolving digital technologies into yesterday’s analog, regulatory containers. It is time for a fundamental reconceptualization and reimplementation of identity, privacy, and banking regulatory processes.”[1]

(This comment comes from the CEO of ID3 a research and educational non-profit, headquartered in Boston Massachusetts as part of MIT. ID3 is working with the World Economic Forum to build frameworks for the use of personal date to create both social and economic value.)

Traditional electronic identity systems are insecure and do not protect privacy. Most recently, the technological approach to meshing together online activity and seamlessly transitioning from one site to another has been through the use of “impersonation”. Impersonation is exactly as it sounds – the user provides an online service with their identity and password so that the online service can undertake data collection or pay bills as if they are actually the user. Whilst the online service is undertaking the requested task there is no limit on its ability to collect data for aggregation and later commercial use.

The impersonation method is expressly forbidden by the terms and conditions of many services – “do not share your logon name or password with anyone” – but is nevertheless becoming the norm for large companies, particularly in the financial services arena.

Technological advancements can eliminate security and privacy concerns and can do so with a substantial cost advantage to Government.

Background

Traditional electronic identity systems are built on the idea of an identity token or an identity card.  In the real world a person has an identity card and the card represents their identity as established by the card issuing authority. An electronic identity card is a natural extension of this idea and works well in an electronic world of isolated computers. These systems are called Token Identity systems and are able to protect the integrity of static isolated data.

With the increase in computational power and the interconnectedness of electronic devices and storage a new method of identity became technically feasible. This method is called Identity by Presence and is made possible by ubiquitous communication of computers and devices, almost zero cost electronic storage, and immense computational power.

Token Identity Systems protect the transmission and storage of isolated data but have difficulty hiding online activity. Identity by Presence systems bypass the protection of Token Identity systems.

Token Identity Systems will always be needed but we need other ways to protect individuals from mass surveillance posed by the increasing number of Identity by Presence systems that are outside the control of individuals.

It is distinctly possible with Identity by Presence for a web site opened in another browser tab to “see” an unrelated site that a user is visiting and record that data against the user’s records.

In today’s electronic world people are increasingly being identified by their physical presence.  In Identity by Presence a person establishes their identity through the electronic devices they use to interact with other electronic devices. The history of these interactions then becomes the electronic representation of the person or an electronic identity.  This short video from the MIT Open Mustard Seed Project describes the idea of an Identity by Presence.

Many Identity by Presence systems exist today:

  • A proprietary implementation of Identity by Presence is the Amazon identity system used by Amazon and its affiliates. Users of Amazon will be familiar with their One Click purchase and the ability of the Amazon system to remember their previous purchasing history and the devices they own. They recognise the fact that they seldom have to login if they use the same devices to access Amazon.
  • A ubiquitous hidden implementation of Identity by Presence has been created by the advertising industry.

“A small technological marvel occurs on almost every visit to a web page. In the seconds that elapse between the user’s click and the display of the page, an ad auction takes place in which hundreds of bidders gather whatever information they can get on the user, determine which ads are likely to be of interest, place bids, and transmit the winning ad to be placed in the page.” [2]

A visualisation of how a person is identified when they visit a website can also be seen at http://o-c-r.org/adcells/.

  • Many intelligence agencies possess similar covert systems that can monitor an individual’s online activity.
  • Telcos and ISPs are also in a position to create their own tracking systems.
  • GPS and mobile systems that track movement of devices have created a multitude of Identity by Presence systems.
  • Google, Twitter and Facebook have systems that track individual activity. Much of this surveillance data is aggregated and sold commercially.
  • Organisations increasingly deploy systems that collect and use device prints to detect fraudulent activity.  Most of the data collected is from non-fraudulent activity and this information can be passed into surveillance systems of non-fraudulent activities.

Token Identity Systems will always be needed but we need other ways to protect individuals from mass surveillance posed by the increasing number of Identity by Presence systems that are outside the control of individuals.

Token Identity Systems protect the transmission and storage of isolated data but have difficulty hiding online activity. Identity by Presence systems operate differently to Token Identity Systems.

Individual Controlled Identity by Presence

A new way for organisations to protect their customers, clients or citizens and their private information is to deploy Individual Controlled Identity by Presence systems where individuals are able to monitor their online Presence. If an individual has access to their own Identity by Presence systems the individual can provide the information that organisations require directly.

Where appropriate Independent Organisational Identity by Presence systems can be linked by individuals themselves. This then provides the ability for activity and data to be shared across Identity by Presence systems. This gives similar functionality as Federated Data integration.  Movement of data between organisations can be viewed as the Federation of One.

Individual Controlled Identity by Presence systems are low cost to deploy and manage and are easily retrofitted to existing systems. They can provide Tokens for existing Token Identity Systems and are an enhancement of, rather than a replacement for, Token Identity Systems.

They are more secure, simpler to use, lower risk and are Private by Design. They require no new legislation to deploy and they fit within existing legislation designed for Token Identity systems.

Organisations who provide an Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system for their clients, customers or citizens will have little incentive to allow other Identity by Presence systems to operate on their websites. This is because they can find the information they need about their users directly from the users rather than relying on the current surveillance and third party approaches.

Deploying an Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system will reduce the cost of providing Identity services by up to 90% of the cost of a Token Identity Systems on its own. This occurs because rather than each individual data source having to have its own Token Identity system, the Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system gives a common framework and takes the burden of identity away from organisations and puts it into the hands of the individuals being identified. The tokens for the protection of data sources are provided by the Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system.

Systems Transparency

An Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system is a cooperative system as all organisations which use it must be confident in its security and ability to provide reliable, secure and low risk identities for individuals. To help achieve this Individual Controlled Identity by Presence systems can use open source software and use existing standards where-ever possible.  It is important not to have proprietary software systems or single source software as this can easily lead to distortions in the way systems cooperate.

How Individual Controlled Identity by Presence Systems Reduce Costs

In a typical application constructed for an organisation there are two interfaces to the data.  One interface is for the organisation to monitor its users and customers. This often called the administrative system and the other is the interface to customers and end users which requires the organisation to set up a Token Identity system to allow individuals to access the system.

With an Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system there is no need for the organisation to set up its own Token Identity System to allow individuals to access the system.  Instead the organisation has a single access for both individuals and for the organisation.  The rules associated with access are specified by the organisation when it sets up the Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system.  This results in very large savings because it replaces tailored identity systems for each data access with a parameter driven common system usable across many data stores.

The costs decrease even further when data is transferred between organisations.  By having the individual access both the data source and the data repository identification of the same person is built into the system and does not require any further control.  The translation of data between different stores can be largely automated by reusing translations used between data stores and building the translations into the rules of the Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system.

Costs further decrease because information stored once in any Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system can be made available to any other Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system.  This reduces the cost of protection of data because there can be one “source of truth” for any item of data.  This reduces synchronisation and protection costs.

Summary

The rise of Identity by Presence systems in extensive commercial use is a massive affront to Government actions on privacy. Attempts to secure private data via systems like My Gov are, at best, only able to prevent access to data, not prevent presence detection.

Control and regulation of Identity by Presence systems is difficult to achieve using Token Identity systems.

As an alternative to regulating Identity by Presence systems and Token Identity systems, Individual Controlled Identity by Presence systems can be introduced.  Organisations which introduce their own Individual Controlled Identity by Presence system can block other surveillance Individual Controlled Identity by Presence systems.

Organisations which choose to use Individual Controlled Identity by Presence systems view protection of identity and non-surveillance of individuals as important for the functioning of a civil society.

As a huge bonus Individual Controlled Identity by Presence systems reduce costs, improve the user experience, are more secure and have privacy built into their operation.

There are significant opportunities for Government to introduce Individual Controlled Identity by Presence systems into existing systems to enhance the levels of privacy and reduce costs. The cost of introduction would be more than offset by the reduction in maintenance and operating costs of existing systems.

The introduction of such systems would substantially alter the privacy landscape in Australia.

The opportunities are exciting.

 

[1] Dr. John H. Clippinger, Executive Director/CEO ID3, Privacy and Compliance by Design: Proposal For New 21st Century Regulatory Framework to Protect Personal Identity and Data While Assuring Regulatory Compliance with KYC and AML Rules

[2] Andy Oram, How Browsers Get To Know You In Milliseconds O’Reilly.com

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