Point/Counterpoint: We Need a System of Internet IDs

Point/Counterpoint: We Need a System of Internet IDs

Has a friend ever called you to say, “Hey, unless you are genuinely trying to sell me property in the Dominican Republic, your email is hacked”? Or received a call from your bank asking if you truly meant to donate $7,000 to some pasty kid in Ohio claiming to be a Nigerian prince? Internet security is broken, and we need to roll up our cyber-sleeves and fix it. That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced this new proposal on April 15, designed to fight the steady increase in online crime. Entitled the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, or NSTIC, it outlines the beginnings of an “identity ecosystem” to be created jointly by the private and public sector to spur more innovative and effective online authentication methods. Even if you’re not as immediately and easily swayed by snazzy, futuristic phrases like “identity ecosystem” as I am (and oh, how I am) there are still lots of other reasons to support increased Internet security.

To see the other side of this argument, click here to read the “counterpoint” in our point/counterpoint.

And what exactly is an “identity ecosystem,” you might ask. The concept at this stage is a little nebulous, but it basically refers to an online environment that’s fundamentally different than the one we have now. Instead of an anonymous free-for-all, an identity ecosystem would allow people to use and prove their identities thanks to solid authoritative sources. That ecosystem, by necessity, would support a whole mess of security options that allow consumers to choose how to better protect their online identities. NSTIC is calling these security options “trusted credentials,” which is an umbrella term for any devices or methods considered to be more secure than passwords. Yes, it’s incredibly ambiguous, but give them a break: The bulk of the technology that might qualify as a trusted credential is still in development.

This is not a new idea – in fact, inventor/philosopher/Force Majeure Ted Nelson’s work with Project Xanadu, which he founded in 1960, predicted this problem decades before the Googlian Empire. The first rule of Project Xanadu? Every server is uniquely and securely identified. A little further down the list is a similar rule: Every user is uniquely and securely identified. Nelson even foresaw the problem of compensating people for their intellectual property online; with a unique ID, a micropayment could be debited from a user’s account every time they read an article or viewed an image on a webpage. Voila! Dramatic Chipmunk would be rich! But that idea fell out of favor as Xanadu’s sorta-competitor, the World Wide Web, achieved dominance.

Credit : Becky Ferreira

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