How much do you trust your digital life? Has the fear of identity theft or bank card fraud dampened your trust in digital services? You're not alone. As the digital world permeates more and more aspects of our lifestyle, protecting our digital lives is more important than ever.
Researchers at Microsoft, Nokia, Philips and digital security company Gemalto recently announced the launch of a new initiative that aims to set out how consumers and businesses can do just that. Called Trust in Digital Life Partnership, their vision is to address "the fundamental societal issue of trust in new and emerging digital services."
One of the founding members of Trust in Digital Life is Kim Cameron , chief architect of identity with the Identity and Security division at Microsoft. Mr. Cameron is a firm believer that the need to animate interest in the area of digital trust is key. In a recent Q&A interview with the Globe and Mail, Mr. Cameron outlines what steps need to be taken to secure digital identity.
Why now for this type of partnership?
In a digital world you don't know who you are connecting with. The Internet itself was designed without any way for you to tell, and so we've retrofitted a bunch of [identity]mechanisms, but they aren't reliable and they aren't very easy to understand.
As more aspects of life enter the digital realm, this underlying fragility of not knowing who we are dealing with will become more and more problematic. The issue is a very interesting, hard and emotionally laden one - but right now, it's one of the most important for civilization in my opinion.
How did this Trust in Digital Life idea come about?
In Europe they plan things out and apply long term thinking about their infrastructures. They've done it in the past with their transportation systems for example. They want to do the same thing with electronic and digital systems and make Europe as competitive as possible through a great identity infrastructure. So they went to the research and planning people to identify pillars of digital initiatives for the future of Europe. Then they asked them to develop a vision and approach to identity and security and figure out which kind of research funding and joint industries, government and academic collaboration to promote.
What "systems" are you referring to in your vision statement?
When we talk about systems, we mean all the things that happen on your cellphone, your computer, and more and more on your TV, your gaming console and in your work environment where people are living inside the digital realm. The problem is, we're not aware if these "systems" are any good. Take the browser as an example. It's a system that is everywhere in space. Cloud computing pushes it even further. Information is flowing freely, but at what point does isolation between aspects of these systems become essential?
When will society reach a tipping point in all this?
We're already at a tipping point. A lot of systems have been built without any kind of "theory of trust" and information is conveyed that you're not even aware of. Most of the internet [and social networks]works that way. Everything that takes our lives into the digital world moves all things about privacy and security onto the front burner more and more. People need to be able to understand what is happening to them and respect privacy and security requirements.
Is this just a European issue?
This is an issue facing everyone. The challenge is however that these issues express themselves differently in different parts of the world. In many third world countries for example, you have vast masses of people with no identities that are unable to prove who they are, so there is a problem of under-identification. You go to the U.S. or Canada, and the problem is over-identification. We have so many digits attached to us we can barely walk. Even between the U.S. and Canada, requirements for the way information is shared are different.
How do you make sense of all this?
Technology has to be able to support a wide range of social possibilities just as our societies are able to. A system has to reflect the culture of a people, while at the same time offer the necessary protection. It has to work across all different countries and social ideas and support the full range of human emotions. At some point we need to get the policy makers to understand what all the levers and knobs are for expressing the characteristics of their own society and making them clear.
What are your hopes for the Partnership going forward?
Since the initial announcement, the partnership has been working on attracting other members from industry, health care, government and education; as well as identifying potential projects to apply the principles of trust outlined in the vision statement to the real world. What I hope personally is that we would have concrete projects in place that demonstrate some of the novel ways that we can do things to enhance trust. We want to go from "Okay, we have a vision and a desire to do it" to communicating there is a problem and identifying precise projects. There will be similar projects happening in North America where we can expect to see some very interesting things.
Any final thoughts?
Identity is so fundamental to everything. We have this "Internet of Things" that's a big rubric and live in this ambient digital reality that goes beyond the physical. My thermostat is even on the Internet so I can surf on it or reach it from Paris! Imagine living in Hong Kong or another densely populated place where millions of people live in close proximity and everything they have is wireless. So how do we make sure we still have privacy in those environments? These are real and concrete issues that are happening so fast.
We could just live with it on one end and a bunch of stuff doesn't go digital. At another end, wherever we go on the Internet is traced to your natural person as a citizen and everything is audited and written down in a Book of Digital Life. If you start to think about the implications of those different options, neither adheres to the tenets of our civilization.
Right now, society can either do things in ways that enhances trust and are technologically strong - or in ways that erode trust and are technologically weak. It's really that clear a paradigm, and there is no guarantee which way things will go.