Wikisurveillance: a genealogy of cooperative watching in the West

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As the duly elected Liberal government currently serving the Province of Ontario stands poised to infuse one of the largest revenue collection and fine levying agencies in the Western hemisphere—the Ontario Provincial Police—with $2 million (Can) to fund the operation of a state-of-the-art spy plane ostensibly required to identify “racers” or “stunt” drivers using the King’s Highways (Cockburn & Greenberg 2007), all while police in Britain continue to append audio-video recording equipment, or “Bobbie-Cams,” to the helmets of their patrol officers in the vein of Paul Verhoeven’s dystopic 1987 film Robocop (Satter 2007), one is prompted to take a look back at the corpus of police surveillance devices suborned by modernity, that have in aggregate given way for what might be called the golden age of voyeurism.

The mechanical metamorphosis from Althusser’s (1971) Ideological State Apparatus, into the more palpable “technical apparatus” (Ellul 1964: 101) of the police as we know them today, has been achieved in large part through a process of technological determinism, or the means by which human culture and history are simultaneously rendered and reified by our machines. In other words, the ubiquity of those police surveillance and reporting tools that have pervaded urban life for well over a century, has in turn propagated a mimetic response in occidental consumer culture whereby the general public is increasingly enamored by the “democratization of surveillance” (Staples 2000: 155) made possible by portable, affordable, and elegant devices that, through their egalitarian accessibility, make “coercion embedded, cooperative, and subtle, and therefore not experienced as coercion at all” (Ericson & Haggerty 1997: 7). As public and private interests ultimately converge through a phenomenon I call wikisurveillance, the denizens of this self-supervising panoptic state cooperatively pen the requiem for once valued tenets of privacy through the normalization, even fetishization, of corporate and private data mining, cell phone videography, security camera ubiquity, home “monitoring” systems, the proliferation of spy stores, and systemic Facebook cultism.

As such, I define wikisurveillance as the manner in which the community at large has been seduced by, or at the very least summarily acceded to, the idea of watching, recording, reporting, and even the expectation, or exhibitionism, of being watched, as the new de facto social contract for the post-industrial age. Ergo, the computing neologism “wiki” is an appropriate prefix to denote and describe this present Zeitgeist of freelance information brokering in which we presently live, as not unlike any open-source wiki-based text that is publicly inclusive, accessible, modifiable, and even corruptible in its design, the commercial surveillance technologies that define the new historicism of Western media have fostered an age of consensual spying and reporting perhaps best described as the Vichy state of late-capitalism. As conventional law enforcement’s monopoly on surveillance has consequently been muscled out by a veritable coup d’état spearheaded by free unlimited video messaging, Dateline hidden camera specials, and “how’s my driving?” bumper stickers, we must to some extent acquiesce to the troubling truism that Orwell was wrong: that “[t]here is no Big Brother…we are him” (Staples 2000: 153).

From the discreet distribution of “Constable keys” in the early 20th century to select citizens who could then access locked police signal-boxes and secretly report on the activities of their neighbors, illegal or otherwise, through to the efforts of the Ontario Green Ribbon Task Force in the early 1990s to have affluent commuters armed with what were then nascent and comparatively costly cell-phones report on the movements and identifiers of any vehicle similar to that believed to have been driven by serial killer Paul Bernardo, to modern AMBER-Alerts that function under this same basic pretense, and ultimately to the use of virtual communities like You Tube to solve crimes as serious as murder in some instances (Quintino 2006), there is indeed a long standing confederacy between hegemony and communications technology—even a co-constitutive evolution—which is being increasingly co-opted by private citizens and private enterprise as the state’s observational authority is deregulated.

As Western law enforcement continues to increasingly assert itself through largely privately owned and definitively for-profit entities whose loyalty remains to its capital interests in earnest, the “technical apparatus” of the police is diffused amongst an untrained, unaccountable, and largely anonymous civilian populace who mimic the police methodology by not only buying the compatible hardware, but also buying-in to the associated mindset that all human activities have an inherent intelligence-gathering value.

Whether it be the regular use of clandestine listening devices in Dunkin’ Donuts stores throughout the US (Staples 2000), or the Argus Digital Doorman maintaining and potentially selling off a facial recognition database containing the images of all visitors traveling to and fro any subscribing condominium or apartment building, we see that wikisurveillance allows the Western narrative on both privacy and paranoia to be scribed by a cabal of agents provocateurs who, in working for purely commercial interests, transform the thin blue line into a proverbial Maginot Line of strategic technical installations that expedite the erosion of human agency in not only the management, but also the manufacturing, of law and order.

Wikisurveillance has shown us that the rise of the dreaded police state in the West will not come with the terrifying, sweeping reforms of some new radical and totalitarian government that somehow seizes power, nor from under the boot of some fascist despot, but rather, with the efforts taken in the here and now largely to protect actuarial assets. While police agencies are generally subject to public oversight and accountability, and to archival audits and the eventual de-classification or disclosure of some information, where, when, and how the fragments of unregulated and individually mined data presently floating around will ultimately be used becomes the nagging query written into the code of wikisurvillance. As all human activities become increasingly part of a permanent and quantifiable record that is in large part privately owned and maintained, the Monday morning quarterbacking of historical surveillance data will consequently ensure that “[a] crime can always be found” (Solove 2007: 5) amongst the assorted images, as the floating definition of deviance ensures that crime becomes the last truly renewable Western resource.

Michael Arntfield is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Information & Media Studies, University of Western Ontario.

BIBLIOGRPAHY

Adlam, Robert C.A. (1981) “The Police Personality.” In: Pope, David W. & Weiner, Norman L. (eds) Modern Policing. pp. 152-162. London: Croom Helm Ltd.

Chu, Jim (2001) Law Enforcement Information Technology: A Managerial, Operational and Practitioner Guide. USA: CRC Press

Cockburn, Neco & Greenberg, Lee (2007) “Ont. to Impose $10,000 Fines for Street Racing.” National Post on-line, Aug 15, 2007. Electronic document: http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=6b7d070b-7d48-466c-96db-586d2a5f6def&k=10512. Retrieved Aug 16, 2007

Dandeker, Christopher (1990) Surveillance, Power and Modernity: Bureaucracy and Discipline from 1700 to the Present Day. Cambridge: Polity Press

Ellul, Jacques (1964) The Technological Society. New York: Knopf

Ericson, Richard V. & Haggerty, Kevin, D (1997) Policing the Risk Society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Lind, Laura (2007, August 18) “Hysteria Lane” The National Post, Toronto Weekend Magazine, p.14

Mann, Steve (1998) “’Reflectionism' and 'Diffusionism': New Tactics for Deconstructing the Video Surveillance Superhighway,” Leonardo, 31(2): 93-102.

Manning, Peter K. (1992) “Information Technologies and the Police” In Tonry, Michael & Morris, Norval (eds) Modern Policing. pp. 349-398. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Marx, Leo (1964) The Machine in the Garden: The Pastoral Idea in America. New York: Oxford University Press

Maxcer, Chris (2007, March 6) “Cops Nab Crooks Using YouTube” Tech News World.com. Electronic document: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/56108.html
Retrieved July 10/07

Morgan, Rod & Newburn, Tim (1997) The Future of Policing. Oxford: Oxford University Press

North, Dick (1978) The Lost Patrol. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest Publishing Co.

ODMP (2006) Officer Down Memorial Page. Fallen officer directory. Electronic document: http://www.odmp.org/agency.php?agencyid=2758. Retrieved June 14/06

Packer, Jeremy (2002) “Mobile Communications and Governing the Mobile: CBs and Truckers,” Communication Review, 5(1) pp. 39-58

Phillips, Alberta (2005, March 17) “After Club Fire Police Comments Still Smolder” Statesman.com. Electronic document: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/03/17phillips_edit.html. Retrieved May 2/06

Quintino, Anne-Marie (2006, December 15) “Police Discovering Power of YouTube” Globe and Mail.com. Electronic document: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20061215.gtcopsyoutube1215/BNStory/Technology/home. Retrieved July 17/07

Richardson, Mark (2005) On the Beat: 150 Years of Policing in London Ontario. Canada: Aylmer Express Ltd.

Rubinstein, Jonathan (1973) City Police. USA: Hill & Wang

Satter, Raphael G. (2007, July 13) “Britain’s surveillance to new levels with video cameras strapped to police helmets.” CBC Newsworld. Electronic document: http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/070713/w071347A.html. Retrieved July 14/07

Seltzer, Mark (1992) Bodies & Machines. New York: Routledge

Smith, Merritt Roe (1994) “Technological Determinism in American Culture.” In Smith, Merritt Roe & Marx, Leo (eds) Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. pp. 1-36. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press

Solove, Daniel J. (2007) “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy,” The San Diego Law Review (44), pp. 1-23

Staples, William G. (2000) Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield

Stewart, Robert W. (1994) The Police Signal Box: A 100 Year History. Glasgow: University of Strathclyde. Electronic document: http://www.eee.strath.ac.uk/r.w.stewart/boxes.pdf. Retrieved April 25/06

Vanderburg, Willem H. (2000) The Labyrinth of Technology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Wade, John (1829) A Treatise on the Police and Crimes of the Metropolis. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green

A Canadian Privacy Heritage Minute: Surveillance, Discipline, and Nursing Education

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In this particular historical moment of fetishized “security” and state-sponsored surveillance carried out “for our own good,” it is tempting for some of us to think that we are reaching some low point in the history of privacy, where new technologies already allow the deployment of an Orwellian omniscience by states and corporations. This may indeed be so, but some research I did some years ago on the history of nursing education (of all things) has inclined me (a privacy advocacy neophyte) to wonder if the drive for total surveillance is neither novel nor dependent upon new technologies. In the spirit of Heritage Canada’s iconic television spots, I offer my own “Privacy Heritage Minute,” with all the skeletal theoretical framework, carefully-selected facts and simplistic moral that such an approach implies.

Prior to the 1950s, most Canadian nurses (who were predominantly young, white, unmarried women) were trained through an apprenticeship system, learning their craft by working for three years unpaid on hospital wards. This training was extremely arduous and strictly regimented, and was overseen by a limited number of paid nurse overseers and by senior nurse apprentices. The vast bulk of nursing labour in hospitals was completed by students, who lived on the hospital campus and seldom left the site until their training was complete.

Beginning in the late 19th century, it was understood that moral rectitude (read virginity) and feminine deference (read unquestioning obedience) were key characteristics of the ideal nurse. In part this was because prevailing models of health contained an unmistakably moral component (as arguably they still do – see the rhetoric around obesity, heart disease, HIV, etc.). Likewise hospitals, which were in competition for the dollars of wealthy patients and donors, used the image of the physically and morally clean (female) student nurse as advertising to convince the well-to-do of the safety and efficacy of institutional health care. [1]

Hospitals posted extensive lists of rules intended to ensure the proper behaviour of their student nurses. Obedience was far too important to be entrusted simply to sets of rules, however. As was explained in one nurses’ orientation manual, each individual would be “carefully watched to ensure strict obedience.” Surveillance, embodied in the policies, procedures, and the very architecture of the training school and Nurses’ Home, provided the disciplinary backbone for nursing training. Michel Foucault described similar developments with respect to 18th-century reform schools and prisons in Discipline and Punish: “We have here a sketch of an institution ... in which three procedures are integrated into a single mechanism: teaching proper, the acquisition of knowledge by the very practice of the pedagogical activity, and a reciprocal, hierarchised observation.”

Surveillance of student nurses began from the moment they applied to their training. Candidates underwent gynecological screening tests, which allowed hospital management to determine whether the candidates showed signs of sexually transmitted diseases, previous pregnancy, or loss of virginity. Applicants who showed evidence of such indiscretions were likely to be rejected as “not suitable to become a nurse.” This managerial anxiety over sexuality permeated the apprenticeship program. Of particular concern in these all-female spaces was homosexuality, a “vice” that dared not speak its name but that nevertheless attracted careful scrutiny by managers and hospital trustees. As one former nurse explained to me,

A rule was posted that ‘only one may bathe at a time’. We didn’t have time to wait in the mornings, so we often shared showers and tubs. The bathrooms were patrolled [by matrons] and so if a matronly voice said ‘is there only one of you in the tub,’ our rule was that only the one in the middle would call out ‘Yes, miss!’. I realized later that they were scared stiff of lesbianism.

In some residences, bath doors were designed like the swinging doors of saloons with spaces above and below, a technology of observation noted by Foucault at Paris-Duverney's Ecole Militaire. [2]

Surveillance was also trained upon the movements of apprentice nurses in their leisure time and private spaces. Purpose-built Nurses’ Homes were designed along panoptic principles, situating the Matron’s quarters adjacent to the main exit, an arrangement that gave the impression that the foyer was under constant supervision. Anyone entering or exiting the residence was required to sign a log, and bedrooms were checked for absent (or extra) bodies every evening. Strict curfews were enforced with the threat of dismissal, and reinforced with the possibility of character assassination for young women seen “out on the town” after curfew. In this latter area, the hospital enlisted the aid of the surrounding community as observers and judges of nurses’ conduct, and upright citizens regularly informed managers of suspected infractions by students.

On the hospital wards, surveillance took its shape via the ideology of scientific management. By the 1910’s, hospital managers had joined the cult of efficiency, and strongly believed that minute regulation of workers’ time and motion would lead to increased production and lower costs, concepts which fit awkwardly into the provision of health care but which nevertheless persist in hospital management to this day. [3] To this end, nurses were monitored carefully as they learned nursing tasks in a deskilled [4], routinized manner, with harsh discipline as the reward for lapses of technique or behaviour. A fundamental goal of this system was that students would internalize the observing eye, and like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticized prisoners, govern their behaviour according to the priorities of the institution.

Although there were obvious functional reasons for hospitals to maintain strict control over their unpaid labour force, the diligence with which such controls were implemented cannot be explained without attention to the larger discursive webs in which hospitals and nurses were caught. Rapid urbanisation and economic change in Canada, with the attendant increases in single women's urban employment and public visibility, fostered in the imaginations of civic leaders the spectre of the 'woman adrift', the young working girl living in unsupervised residences in an urban environment, untended by patriarchal authority. Promoting women's chaperoned boarding houses, the Toronto Star-Weekly prodaimed in 1917: "It would seem to be but our duty, from an economic as well as a humanitarian stand-point, to see that [the working girl] lives under conditions which tend to make her more efficient, as well as a worthy citizen. It is not too much to say that the future of our country lies in the hands of these girls.” This disingenuous language reflects (in part) anxieties about “degeneracy” that brought us such historical highlights as eugenic sterilization and the Chinese head tax. Regulation of the young female student nurses was thereby elevated to the level of a patriotic duty. Hospitals as major Canadian institutions bought into this wholesale, boasting that their system of discipline and training worked to produce “the best type of Canadian womanhood.”

With the future of the nation apparently at stake, there was little or no concern expressed about the privacy or autonomy of student nurses. [5] No privacy laws governed the surveillance of these young women – there were compelling moral, economic, political, medical, and other reasons to watch them, and so they were watched.

Without overstating the case, I wonder whether this Heritage Minute tells us a couple of things about reasonable expectations of privacy. To me it says that where fear and prejudice coalesce into social panic, surveillance is a ready tool for the identification and punishment of deviance, and privacy rights will be among the first in a long line of casualties. It also implies that surveillance technology takes the form of whatever is at hand. Hospitals used architectural techniques, documents, holes in walls, and human eyes to watch nurses, and socialized their students to watch themselves and each other. So although resisting the development of new methods of surveillance is important, it’s maybe just as important to keep our eyes on the core reasons why our privacy comes under constant assault. The longevity of the hospital system of nursing training suggests that where serious abrogations of privacy rights have apparent social or economic utility, or where they support the societal status quo, they may persist invisibly or unremarkably for decades.

Thank you. This has been a Canadian Privacy Heritage Minute brought to you by the idTrail.


[1] Even until the 1920’s, most hospital health care was “charitable,” reserved for persons who could not afford home visits by doctors and nurses. Hospitals had poor reputations as charnel-houses until they became the centralized repositories of expensive medical technologies like X-Rays, antiseptic operating theatres, and professional nursing care. This is a long story, for which there is not room here.
[2] Discipline and Punish (NY: Random House Vintage Books, 1979) at 172-173.
[3] Recently some RFID manufacturers and hospital administrators have proposed that increased efficiency could be achieved by attaching RFID tags to the bodies of hospital workers and patients, thus facilitating a constant surveillance of their motions through real-time monitoring from a central site.
[4] The “skill” level of the tasks taught to nurses is the subject of a healthy historical debate which has the “professional” status of nursing at stake in its outcome.
[5] Student nurses themselves expressed such concerns, and acted on them in important and effective ways, but that is a story for another time.

A Canadian Privacy Heritage Minute: Surveillance, Discipline, and Nursing Education

trailmixbanner.gif

In this particular historical moment of fetishized “security” and state-sponsored surveillance carried out “for our own good,” it is tempting for some of us to think that we are reaching some low point in the history of privacy, where new technologies already allow the deployment of an Orwellian omniscience by states and corporations. This may indeed be so, but some research I did some years ago on the history of nursing education (of all things) has inclined me (a privacy advocacy neophyte) to wonder if the drive for total surveillance is neither novel nor dependent upon new technologies. In the spirit of Heritage Canada’s iconic television spots, I offer my own “Privacy Heritage Minute,” with all the skeletal theoretical framework, carefully-selected facts and simplistic moral that such an approach implies.

Prior to the 1950s, most Canadian nurses (who were predominantly young, white, unmarried women) were trained through an apprenticeship system, learning their craft by working for three years unpaid on hospital wards. This training was extremely arduous and strictly regimented, and was overseen by a limited number of paid nurse overseers and by senior nurse apprentices. The vast bulk of nursing labour in hospitals was completed by students, who lived on the hospital campus and seldom left the site until their training was complete.

Beginning in the late 19th century, it was understood that moral rectitude (read virginity) and feminine deference (read unquestioning obedience) were key characteristics of the ideal nurse. In part this was because prevailing models of health contained an unmistakably moral component (as arguably they still do – see the rhetoric around obesity, heart disease, HIV, etc.). Likewise hospitals, which were in competition for the dollars of wealthy patients and donors, used the image of the physically and morally clean (female) student nurse as advertising to convince the well-to-do of the safety and efficacy of institutional health care. [1]

Hospitals posted extensive lists of rules intended to ensure the proper behaviour of their student nurses. Obedience was far too important to be entrusted simply to sets of rules, however. As was explained in one nurses’ orientation manual, each individual would be “carefully watched to ensure strict obedience.” Surveillance, embodied in the policies, procedures, and the very architecture of the training school and Nurses’ Home, provided the disciplinary backbone for nursing training. Michel Foucault described similar developments with respect to 18th-century reform schools and prisons in Discipline and Punish: “We have here a sketch of an institution ... in which three procedures are integrated into a single mechanism: teaching proper, the acquisition of knowledge by the very practice of the pedagogical activity, and a reciprocal, hierarchised observation.”

Surveillance of student nurses began from the moment they applied to their training. Candidates underwent gynecological screening tests, which allowed hospital management to determine whether the candidates showed signs of sexually transmitted diseases, previous pregnancy, or loss of virginity. Applicants who showed evidence of such indiscretions were likely to be rejected as “not suitable to become a nurse.” This managerial anxiety over sexuality permeated the apprenticeship program. Of particular concern in these all-female spaces was homosexuality, a “vice” that dared not speak its name but that nevertheless attracted careful scrutiny by managers and hospital trustees. As one former nurse explained to me,

A rule was posted that ‘only one may bathe at a time’. We didn’t have time to wait in the mornings, so we often shared showers and tubs. The bathrooms were patrolled [by matrons] and so if a matronly voice said ‘is there only one of you in the tub,’ our rule was that only the one in the middle would call out ‘Yes, miss!’. I realized later that they were scared stiff of lesbianism.

In some residences, bath doors were designed like the swinging doors of saloons with spaces above and below, a technology of observation noted by Foucault at Paris-Duverney's Ecole Militaire. [2]

Surveillance was also trained upon the movements of apprentice nurses in their leisure time and private spaces. Purpose-built Nurses’ Homes were designed along panoptic principles, situating the Matron’s quarters adjacent to the main exit, an arrangement that gave the impression that the foyer was under constant supervision. Anyone entering or exiting the residence was required to sign a log, and bedrooms were checked for absent (or extra) bodies every evening. Strict curfews were enforced with the threat of dismissal, and reinforced with the possibility of character assassination for young women seen “out on the town” after curfew. In this latter area, the hospital enlisted the aid of the surrounding community as observers and judges of nurses’ conduct, and upright citizens regularly informed managers of suspected infractions by students.

On the hospital wards, surveillance took its shape via the ideology of scientific management. By the 1910’s, hospital managers had joined the cult of efficiency, and strongly believed that minute regulation of workers’ time and motion would lead to increased production and lower costs, concepts which fit awkwardly into the provision of health care but which nevertheless persist in hospital management to this day. [3] To this end, nurses were monitored carefully as they learned nursing tasks in a deskilled [4], routinized manner, with harsh discipline as the reward for lapses of technique or behaviour. A fundamental goal of this system was that students would internalize the observing eye, and like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticized prisoners, govern their behaviour according to the priorities of the institution.

Although there were obvious functional reasons for hospitals to maintain strict control over their unpaid labour force, the diligence with which such controls were implemented cannot be explained without attention to the larger discursive webs in which hospitals and nurses were caught. Rapid urbanisation and economic change in Canada, with the attendant increases in single women's urban employment and public visibility, fostered in the imaginations of civic leaders the spectre of the 'woman adrift', the young working girl living in unsupervised residences in an urban environment, untended by patriarchal authority. Promoting women's chaperoned boarding houses, the Toronto Star-Weekly prodaimed in 1917: "It would seem to be but our duty, from an economic as well as a humanitarian stand-point, to see that [the working girl] lives under conditions which tend to make her more efficient, as well as a worthy citizen. It is not too much to say that the future of our country lies in the hands of these girls.” This disingenuous language reflects (in part) anxieties about “degeneracy” that brought us such historical highlights as eugenic sterilization and the Chinese head tax. Regulation of the young female student nurses was thereby elevated to the level of a patriotic duty. Hospitals as major Canadian institutions bought into this wholesale, boasting that their system of discipline and training worked to produce “the best type of Canadian womanhood.”

With the future of the nation apparently at stake, there was little or no concern expressed about the privacy or autonomy of student nurses. [5] No privacy laws governed the surveillance of these young women – there were compelling moral, economic, political, medical, and other reasons to watch them, and so they were watched.

Without overstating the case, I wonder whether this Heritage Minute tells us a couple of things about reasonable expectations of privacy. To me it says that where fear and prejudice coalesce into social panic, surveillance is a ready tool for the identification and punishment of deviance, and privacy rights will be among the first in a long line of casualties. It also implies that surveillance technology takes the form of whatever is at hand. Hospitals used architectural techniques, documents, holes in walls, and human eyes to watch nurses, and socialized their students to watch themselves and each other. So although resisting the development of new methods of surveillance is important, it’s maybe just as important to keep our eyes on the core reasons why our privacy comes under constant assault. The longevity of the hospital system of nursing training suggests that where serious abrogations of privacy rights have apparent social or economic utility, or where they support the societal status quo, they may persist invisibly or unremarkably for decades.

Thank you. This has been a Canadian Privacy Heritage Minute brought to you by the idTrail.


[1] Even until the 1920’s, most hospital health care was “charitable,” reserved for persons who could not afford home visits by doctors and nurses. Hospitals had poor reputations as charnel-houses until they became the centralized repositories of expensive medical technologies like X-Rays, antiseptic operating theatres, and professional nursing care. This is a long story, for which there is not room here.
[2] Discipline and Punish (NY: Random House Vintage Books, 1979) at 172-173.
[3] Recently some RFID manufacturers and hospital administrators have proposed that increased efficiency could be achieved by attaching RFID tags to the bodies of hospital workers and patients, thus facilitating a constant surveillance of their motions through real-time monitoring from a central site.
[4] The “skill” level of the tasks taught to nurses is the subject of a healthy historical debate which has the “professional” status of nursing at stake in its outcome.
[5] Student nurses themselves expressed such concerns, and acted on them in important and effective ways, but that is a story for another time.

She-Geeks of the World, Unite!

I attended a Ruby meetup the other night. There was standing room only; the organizers estimated that over 50 attended.

From time to time, I looked around the room to see how many women were in the audience. Guess how many I saw? Zero. Yech.

Why does this happen? Men don’t like it. Women don’t like it. Everyone realizes that what may work well for Mount Athos does not work well for technology. So what’s up?

Only a Kaliya unconference can get to the bottom of a mystery like this, and fortunately she’s organizing one on this one next month. If you’re reading this while female, please consider attending and help save the world.

And if you haven’t experienced an unconference before — well, you really should.

The Wrong Kind of Privacy

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I recently received news that my friend Kelly was found dead in her single room occupancy [1] hotel in Vancouver, several days after she had died. [2]

I knew Kelly as a great force working to improve the lives of street level sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Feeling far away and alone in my grief, I googled her to see whether anything had been written about her death. To my surprise, I found a handful of references to her (full name included) as a participant in a free heroin trial program, and identifying her as a woman living out of a shopping cart in Canada’s poorest postal code. I was frustrated and angry that this one-dimensional sketch of Kelly, involving incredibly private details about her life, was so accessible. My first instinct was to wonder whether she had consented to having her name published in these articles. But then a different, and rather more pressing set of questions struck me.

Why, when so few people took notice of her daily existence and suffering, when she was allowed to die almost invisibly – was it possible for me to access information about her health, [3] her poverty and her homelessness on the World Wide Web? I couldn’t shake the idea that Kelly had too much of the wrong kind of privacy.

Kelly didn’t need the state to be kept “out”. [4] She needed the state and society more broadly to be let “in”, to actively participate in her existence by recognizing her humanity and not remaining indifferent to her poverty. The privacy she needed is that which comes from access to private property and adequate housing. The privacy she needed was that which would have enabled her to develop her identity and sense of self outside of the apathetic public scrutiny that happens on the street where the privileged are indifferent voyeurs of suffering.

What is privacy, anyways?
I write this with the qualification that it is not entirely clear to me what privacy is. I am puzzled about what it means for something to be “private”, what it means for someone, or some identifiable group, to have a right or an interest in “privacy”, or what exactly happens when this peculiar thing known as “privacy” is lost.

Warren and Brandeis famously quoted Judge Cooley’s definition, describing privacy as a right “to be let alone”. [5] Westin is most frequently attributed with informing us that privacy is about a right to control information about ourselves. [6] Judith Jarvis Thompson said privacy is a reductive concept that essentially consists of clustered property rights and rights to ones own person. [7] Ruth Gavison and Anita Allen have identified privacy as a limitation of access to individuals. [8] Richard Bloustein outlined privacy as integral to human dignity. [9] Jeffrey Reiman offered a notion of privacy as critical for personhood formation. [10] Many other wise theorists have offered still more accounts of privacy, more attempts to define what remains, in many senses, opaque.

Legally, the concept of privacy has largely developed in the context of rights of the individual accused as against the state. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that privacy is an instrumental right – integral to the realization of fundamental entitlements such as liberty, security of the person, and equality. [11] Section 8 Charter jurisprudence instructs that there is a distinction to be drawn between public and private space – fostering the notion that we are, at least in some ways, entitled to less privacy in public. [12]

So what’s the problem?
Almost all of this theorizing and analysis seems to take for granted that everyone has access to private space. It assumes a means to limit or control access to oneself. It further assumes that while privacy may not be a fundamental right in and of itself, it is an intrinsic aspect of human life that must be vigilantly protected from theft by the state, the corporate world, or other actors. The reality is that this access and these means are far from universal and that sometimes state intervention and support is necessary in order to foster privacy and/or the ends that privacy aims to achieve (like dignity, autonomous decision-making, the ability to exercise even constrained ‘choice’ with respect to decisions of a private nature, etc.). [13]

The notion of an obligation on the state to protect vulnerable people, even from activities that occur in otherwise private settings, is not new. Largely as a result of feminist activism, the idea of a man’s home as his impenetrable castle – a sacrosanct space that should be fiercely guarded from the hands of the law no matter what occurs within – has been challenged and discredited. It is not okay for the state to remain passive when a person is beaten-up or raped by her spouse. The legacy, however, of the historical role of privacy in protecting male domination of women in the marital home is significant and enduring. Martha Nussbaum, for example, warns: “anyone who takes up the weapon of privacy in the cause of women’s equality must be aware that it is a double edged weapon, long used to defend the killers of women.” [14]

Suspect of privacy, and at the risk of being perceived as taking it up as a “weapon”, I am becoming increasingly interested in arguments that call on the state to facilitate the privacy of historically marginalized groups - like women living and working on the streets. If the law has deemed it inappropriate for the state to ignore abuses suffered by women in their homes, it should not be permissible for the law –and for individuals more generally- to ignore the poverty of women working and living on Canada’s streets. It is their poverty that forces them into public space, and robs them of the privileges of privacy.

Elisabeth Paton-Simpson has pointed out that, “contrary to a widely held assumption in privacy law, reasonable people do not intend to waive all rights to privacy by appearing in public places.” [15] However, Paton-Simpson does not discuss the reality that many Canadians do not have the option to choose whether to appear in public or whether to leave the relative security of their homes – because they have no homes. [16] Unlike the people Paton-Simpson discusses, homeless and precariously housed Canadians have no option to “trust” that they will not be made objects of media excesses and advances in surveillance technology. [17] And yet, while they are infinitely accessible and have no adequate private space within which to develop – they are simultaneously scorned, ignored, and turned into ghosts counted only in studies and statistics. [18]

Final thoughts
Privacy comes in degrees. [19] A person or group of people can conceivably have too much privacy – or not enough. Indeed, without regular access to private property or the capacity to ensure that personal information is not made publicly available, a person’s existence can be completely lived in the presence of others.

It is understandable why legal and philosophical concern about privacy has been focused on protecting against loss of privacy. I think, however, that we need to refocus our attention on whether in some cases positive action is required to facilitate privacy and the goods associated with it (like dignity, security of the person, and liberty). We need to begin addressing the role of the state, the corporate world, and communities in facilitating conditions conducive to the “privacy” that continues to be erroneously assumed as the starting point for all.

Many of my friend Kelly’s daily rituals, no matter how intimate, were performed in “public” – they were accessible to all who passed by, and yet the three-dimensionality of her life and eventually her death remain invisible to most. We are repulsed, we simply don’t give a damn, or we actively disengage and explain-away our responsibility to pay attention, to do something, and to not let people who are in need of assistance alone. Perhaps until we learn better when it is okay to look away, we should take a positive obligation to facilitate privacy as our starting point – so that women do not go missing or die unnoticed.


[1] Single room occupancy (SRO) residential hotel units represent the most basic shelter provided for low-income individuals living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The people who live in SRO buildings are low-income singles at high risk of homelessness.
[2] This is not her real name.
[3] I am writing from a perspective that treats drug use as a health issue.
[4] This is intended as a reference to privacy as involving an entitlement to keep the antagonistic state out of the lives of individuals.
[5] Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy” (1890) 4 Harv.L.Rev. 193. at p. 195.
[6] Alan F. Westin, Privacy and Freedom (New York: Atheneum, 1967) at p. 7.
[7] Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Right to Privacy” (1975) 4 Philosophy and Public Affairs 295-314
[8] Ruth Gavison, “Privacy and the Limits of Law,” (1980) 89 Yale Law Journal at p. 428; Anita Allen, Uneasy Access (New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1988).
[9] Bloustein, E.J., “Privacy as an aspect of human dignity: An answer to Dean Prosser,” (1964) 39 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 963. It is worth noting that Bloustein is referencing “dignity” in what some might call the liberty sense, and not the equality sense. He writes of privacy as dignity offending by explaining: “an intrusion of our privacy threatens our liberty as individuals to do as we will, just as an assault, a battery or imprisonment of our person does.” at p. 1002.
[10] Jeffrey Reiman “Privacy, Intimacy, and Personhood” (1976) 6 Philosophy and Public Affairs at p. 26
[11] See for example: R. v. Dyment, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 417 at paras. 17, 21-22; R v. O’Conner [1995] 4 S.C.R. 411 at paras. 110-113, 115; R. v. Mills, [1999] S.C.J. No. 68 at 91.
[12] Section 8 of the Charter provides that “[e]veryone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.” In R. v. Silveira, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 297, at para. 140, Cory J, found: “[t]here is no place on earth where persons can have a greater expectation of privacy than within their 'dwelling-house'”. See also: R. v. Tessling, [2004] S.C.J. No. 63, in which the SCC indicated that expectations of privacy are less reasonable when one moves outside of the sphere of the home, at para 22.
[13] On privacy’s functional role in facilitating dignity, integrity and autonomy see: R. v. Mills, [1999] S.C.J. No. 68 at para 81.
[14] Martha Nussbaum, “What’s Privacy Got to Do With It: A Comparative Approach to the Feminist Critique” in Women and the United States Constitution: History, Interpretation, and Practice ed. Sibyl A. Schwarzenbach and Patricia Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003) at 164.
[15] Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, “Privacy and the Reasonable Paranoid: The Protection of Privacy in Public Places,” (Summer, 2000) 50 Univ. of Toronto L.J. 305.
[16] Canada has no official data on homelessness – an omission which has attracted critique from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For a somewhat dated discussion of this, see: Patricia Begin, Lyne Casavant, Nancy Miller Chenier, & Jean Dupuis, “Homelessness,” Political and Social Affairs Division, Parliamentary Research Branch, 1999. Online: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/modules/prb99-1-homelessness/index-e.htm
[17] Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, supra note 15: “To the extent that they have any choice in the matter, [reasonable people] generally refuse to be governed by suspicion and paranoia, preferring to trust that their privacy will be respected. They leave the relative security of their homes in order to survive and participate in society, and their experience and expectation is that public places do afford varying degrees of privacy.”
[18] In using the term “ghosts,” I am mindful of Jeffrey Reiman’s theory that there would be no person, or moral agent, to whom moral rights could be ascribed if it weren’t for the boundary drawing, person creating, “social rituals” we call privacy. According to Reiman, privacy “protects the individual’s interest in becoming, being, and remaining a person”: Jeffrey Reiman, supra note 10 at p. 25, 43-44. Charles Fried has similarly made the point that privacy is integral “to regarding ourselves as the objects of love, trust and affection” to understanding ourselves “as persons among persons”: Charles Fried, “Privacy” (1967-68), 77 Yale L.J. 475, at p. 477-78.
[19] I am not speaking here about what courts sometime refer to as “degrees of privacy” in the Charter s. 8 context - as dependent on the type of search (the degree of rights, for example, yielded by a search of a person, as opposed to a search of a person’s home or vehicle). See, for example, Roback v. Chiang, [2003] B.C.J. No. 3127 at para 14.

The Wrong Kind of Privacy

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I recently received news that my friend Kelly was found dead in her single room occupancy [1] hotel in Vancouver, several days after she had died. [2]

I knew Kelly as a great force working to improve the lives of street level sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Feeling far away and alone in my grief, I googled her to see whether anything had been written about her death. To my surprise, I found a handful of references to her (full name included) as a participant in a free heroin trial program, and identifying her as a woman living out of a shopping cart in Canada’s poorest postal code. I was frustrated and angry that this one-dimensional sketch of Kelly, involving incredibly private details about her life, was so accessible. My first instinct was to wonder whether she had consented to having her name published in these articles. But then a different, and rather more pressing set of questions struck me.

Why, when so few people took notice of her daily existence and suffering, when she was allowed to die almost invisibly – was it possible for me to access information about her health, [3] her poverty and her homelessness on the World Wide Web? I couldn’t shake the idea that Kelly had too much of the wrong kind of privacy.

Kelly didn’t need the state to be kept “out”. [4] She needed the state and society more broadly to be let “in”, to actively participate in her existence by recognizing her humanity and not remaining indifferent to her poverty. The privacy she needed is that which comes from access to private property and adequate housing. The privacy she needed was that which would have enabled her to develop her identity and sense of self outside of the apathetic public scrutiny that happens on the street where the privileged are indifferent voyeurs of suffering.

What is privacy, anyways?
I write this with the qualification that it is not entirely clear to me what privacy is. I am puzzled about what it means for something to be “private”, what it means for someone, or some identifiable group, to have a right or an interest in “privacy”, or what exactly happens when this peculiar thing known as “privacy” is lost.

Warren and Brandeis famously quoted Judge Cooley’s definition, describing privacy as a right “to be let alone”. [5] Westin is most frequently attributed with informing us that privacy is about a right to control information about ourselves. [6] Judith Jarvis Thompson said privacy is a reductive concept that essentially consists of clustered property rights and rights to ones own person. [7] Ruth Gavison and Anita Allen have identified privacy as a limitation of access to individuals. [8] Richard Bloustein outlined privacy as integral to human dignity. [9] Jeffrey Reiman offered a notion of privacy as critical for personhood formation. [10] Many other wise theorists have offered still more accounts of privacy, more attempts to define what remains, in many senses, opaque.

Legally, the concept of privacy has largely developed in the context of rights of the individual accused as against the state. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that privacy is an instrumental right – integral to the realization of fundamental entitlements such as liberty, security of the person, and equality. [11] Section 8 Charter jurisprudence instructs that there is a distinction to be drawn between public and private space – fostering the notion that we are, at least in some ways, entitled to less privacy in public. [12]

So what’s the problem?
Almost all of this theorizing and analysis seems to take for granted that everyone has access to private space. It assumes a means to limit or control access to oneself. It further assumes that while privacy may not be a fundamental right in and of itself, it is an intrinsic aspect of human life that must be vigilantly protected from theft by the state, the corporate world, or other actors. The reality is that this access and these means are far from universal and that sometimes state intervention and support is necessary in order to foster privacy and/or the ends that privacy aims to achieve (like dignity, autonomous decision-making, the ability to exercise even constrained ‘choice’ with respect to decisions of a private nature, etc.). [13]

The notion of an obligation on the state to protect vulnerable people, even from activities that occur in otherwise private settings, is not new. Largely as a result of feminist activism, the idea of a man’s home as his impenetrable castle – a sacrosanct space that should be fiercely guarded from the hands of the law no matter what occurs within – has been challenged and discredited. It is not okay for the state to remain passive when a person is beaten-up or raped by her spouse. The legacy, however, of the historical role of privacy in protecting male domination of women in the marital home is significant and enduring. Martha Nussbaum, for example, warns: “anyone who takes up the weapon of privacy in the cause of women’s equality must be aware that it is a double edged weapon, long used to defend the killers of women.” [14]

Suspect of privacy, and at the risk of being perceived as taking it up as a “weapon”, I am becoming increasingly interested in arguments that call on the state to facilitate the privacy of historically marginalized groups - like women living and working on the streets. If the law has deemed it inappropriate for the state to ignore abuses suffered by women in their homes, it should not be permissible for the law –and for individuals more generally- to ignore the poverty of women working and living on Canada’s streets. It is their poverty that forces them into public space, and robs them of the privileges of privacy.

Elisabeth Paton-Simpson has pointed out that, “contrary to a widely held assumption in privacy law, reasonable people do not intend to waive all rights to privacy by appearing in public places.” [15] However, Paton-Simpson does not discuss the reality that many Canadians do not have the option to choose whether to appear in public or whether to leave the relative security of their homes – because they have no homes. [16] Unlike the people Paton-Simpson discusses, homeless and precariously housed Canadians have no option to “trust” that they will not be made objects of media excesses and advances in surveillance technology. [17] And yet, while they are infinitely accessible and have no adequate private space within which to develop – they are simultaneously scorned, ignored, and turned into ghosts counted only in studies and statistics. [18]

Final thoughts
Privacy comes in degrees. [19] A person or group of people can conceivably have too much privacy – or not enough. Indeed, without regular access to private property or the capacity to ensure that personal information is not made publicly available, a person’s existence can be completely lived in the presence of others.

It is understandable why legal and philosophical concern about privacy has been focused on protecting against loss of privacy. I think, however, that we need to refocus our attention on whether in some cases positive action is required to facilitate privacy and the goods associated with it (like dignity, security of the person, and liberty). We need to begin addressing the role of the state, the corporate world, and communities in facilitating conditions conducive to the “privacy” that continues to be erroneously assumed as the starting point for all.

Many of my friend Kelly’s daily rituals, no matter how intimate, were performed in “public” – they were accessible to all who passed by, and yet the three-dimensionality of her life and eventually her death remain invisible to most. We are repulsed, we simply don’t give a damn, or we actively disengage and explain-away our responsibility to pay attention, to do something, and to not let people who are in need of assistance alone. Perhaps until we learn better when it is okay to look away, we should take a positive obligation to facilitate privacy as our starting point – so that women do not go missing or die unnoticed.


[1] Single room occupancy (SRO) residential hotel units represent the most basic shelter provided for low-income individuals living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The people who live in SRO buildings are low-income singles at high risk of homelessness.
[2] This is not her real name.
[3] I am writing from a perspective that treats drug use as a health issue.
[4] This is intended as a reference to privacy as involving an entitlement to keep the antagonistic state out of the lives of individuals.
[5] Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy” (1890) 4 Harv.L.Rev. 193. at p. 195.
[6] Alan F. Westin, Privacy and Freedom (New York: Atheneum, 1967) at p. 7.
[7] Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Right to Privacy” (1975) 4 Philosophy and Public Affairs 295-314
[8] Ruth Gavison, “Privacy and the Limits of Law,” (1980) 89 Yale Law Journal at p. 428; Anita Allen, Uneasy Access (New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1988).
[9] Bloustein, E.J., “Privacy as an aspect of human dignity: An answer to Dean Prosser,” (1964) 39 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 963. It is worth noting that Bloustein is referencing “dignity” in what some might call the liberty sense, and not the equality sense. He writes of privacy as dignity offending by explaining: “an intrusion of our privacy threatens our liberty as individuals to do as we will, just as an assault, a battery or imprisonment of our person does.” at p. 1002.
[10] Jeffrey Reiman “Privacy, Intimacy, and Personhood” (1976) 6 Philosophy and Public Affairs at p. 26
[11] See for example: R. v. Dyment, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 417 at paras. 17, 21-22; R v. O’Conner [1995] 4 S.C.R. 411 at paras. 110-113, 115; R. v. Mills, [1999] S.C.J. No. 68 at 91.
[12] Section 8 of the Charter provides that “[e]veryone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.” In R. v. Silveira, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 297, at para. 140, Cory J, found: “[t]here is no place on earth where persons can have a greater expectation of privacy than within their 'dwelling-house'”. See also: R. v. Tessling, [2004] S.C.J. No. 63, in which the SCC indicated that expectations of privacy are less reasonable when one moves outside of the sphere of the home, at para 22.
[13] On privacy’s functional role in facilitating dignity, integrity and autonomy see: R. v. Mills, [1999] S.C.J. No. 68 at para 81.
[14] Martha Nussbaum, “What’s Privacy Got to Do With It: A Comparative Approach to the Feminist Critique” in Women and the United States Constitution: History, Interpretation, and Practice ed. Sibyl A. Schwarzenbach and Patricia Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003) at 164.
[15] Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, “Privacy and the Reasonable Paranoid: The Protection of Privacy in Public Places,” (Summer, 2000) 50 Univ. of Toronto L.J. 305.
[16] Canada has no official data on homelessness – an omission which has attracted critique from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For a somewhat dated discussion of this, see: Patricia Begin, Lyne Casavant, Nancy Miller Chenier, & Jean Dupuis, “Homelessness,” Political and Social Affairs Division, Parliamentary Research Branch, 1999. Online: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/modules/prb99-1-homelessness/index-e.htm
[17] Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, supra note 15: “To the extent that they have any choice in the matter, [reasonable people] generally refuse to be governed by suspicion and paranoia, preferring to trust that their privacy will be respected. They leave the relative security of their homes in order to survive and participate in society, and their experience and expectation is that public places do afford varying degrees of privacy.”
[18] In using the term “ghosts,” I am mindful of Jeffrey Reiman’s theory that there would be no person, or moral agent, to whom moral rights could be ascribed if it weren’t for the boundary drawing, person creating, “social rituals” we call privacy. According to Reiman, privacy “protects the individual’s interest in becoming, being, and remaining a person”: Jeffrey Reiman, supra note 10 at p. 25, 43-44. Charles Fried has similarly made the point that privacy is integral “to regarding ourselves as the objects of love, trust and affection” to understanding ourselves “as persons among persons”: Charles Fried, “Privacy” (1967-68), 77 Yale L.J. 475, at p. 477-78.
[19] I am not speaking here about what courts sometime refer to as “degrees of privacy” in the Charter s. 8 context - as dependent on the type of search (the degree of rights, for example, yielded by a search of a person, as opposed to a search of a person’s home or vehicle). See, for example, Roback v. Chiang, [2003] B.C.J. No. 3127 at para 14.

For Better, For Worse, or Until I Decide to Spy on You

trailmixbanner.gif Being recently married, I still haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that you can’t change certain traits in your spouse. For example, my other half tends to view cell phones as a leash, and he regularly “forgets” to call me when he’s going to be late, or going out after class or work. As a result, I end up panicking, thinking he has been in a terrible accident and is unconscious somewhere, and I promptly begin my routine of repeatedly calling his cellphone (which is usually off or at the bottom of his bag on silent mode). By the time he finally gets to the phone and sees 18 missed-calls from me, I’m usually anxiety ridden and he calls me laughing, telling me I’m crazy, and that he’s on his way home. This conversation is usually followed by certain expletives and ends with my threat that I’m going to implant Continue reading "For Better, For Worse, or Until I Decide to Spy on You"

Cash(less) on the Road

trailmixbanner.gif Credit cards and databases/data-mining/data aggregation. How does the database nation get affected by a cashless society? I recently had the opportunity to dwell upon the loss of anonymity as we continue the path to cashless-ness. It was on one of those west coast road trips that seem like the perfect way to cap off a summer. Driving to South Bay This August, a couple of friends and I drove down to the Bay Area of California from Vancouver to visit with friends working there. An interesting exercise we got caught up in was to see how difficult it would be to “stay off the radar”. Although we realized that giving out personal information itself is not dangerous, but rather simply provides a possibility for misuse, the recent discourse on domestic spying and the Patriot Act in the US got us to think deeper about sharing our spending habits with US Continue reading "Cash(less) on the Road"

Blog Friends latest

We must really start a Blog Friends blog so I can go back to just writing about identity at weaverluke! In the meantime, it seemed about time to write an update on Blog Friends' progress.

Firstly, I'm delighted to report that we closed some more seed investment yesterday, which gives us plenty of runway to launch the upcoming "v.1" release (of which more shortly).

We have 5,422 registered users as I write, and had 22,000 unique people in total use Blog Friends in the last month. Growth is gradually accelerating and currently averages around 150 registrations per day.

In the last few weeks, Benjie has been focusing on optimising the code and server setup in order to cope with our growing user base, along with various bug fixes, feature tweaks, and now support for multiple blogs (a much-requested feature).

So what next?

From user's feedback, and our own observations, we believe that we are doing a great job of serving bloggers and their friends (the reviews have been very kind*), but a lousy job of serving people who may only have heard of these curious things called "blogs", but have no idea how or where to find good ones to read.

For this reason, our forthcoming v.1 release (in a few weeks' time) will focus on redressing this deficit: our aim is that a new user, however little they may be networked on facebook, let alone with bloggers, should get a great experience from the get go!

We also hope to make Blog Friends much more useful and fun for all our users with a set of ratings and recommendation features that will help you, your friends and the whole network find more and more personally-interesting posts.

Finally, they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery... ; )

As ever, your feedback and thoughts are treasured—feel free to comment here or drop by our facebook group*.

*Link requires facebook login.

Blog Friends latest

We must really start a Blog Friends blog so I can go back to just writing about identity at weaverluke! In the meantime, it seemed about time to write an update on Blog Friends' progress.

Firstly, I'm delighted to report that we closed some more seed investment yesterday, which gives us plenty of runway to launch the upcoming "v.1" release (of which more shortly).

We have 5,422 registered users as I write, and had 22,000 unique people in total use Blog Friends in the last month. Growth is gradually accelerating and currently averages around 150 registrations per day.

In the last few weeks, Benjie has been focusing on optimising the code and server setup in order to cope with our growing user base, along with various bug fixes, feature tweaks, and now support for multiple blogs (a much-requested feature).

So what next?

From user's feedback, and our own observations, we believe that we are doing a great job of serving bloggers and their friends (the reviews have been very kind*), but a lousy job of serving people who may only have heard of these curious things called "blogs", but have no idea how or where to find good ones to read.

For this reason, our forthcoming v.1 release (in a few weeks' time) will focus on redressing this deficit: our aim is that a new user, however little they may be networked on facebook, let alone with bloggers, should get a great experience from the get go!

We also hope to make Blog Friends much more useful and fun for all our users with a set of ratings and recommendation features that will help you, your friends and the whole network find more and more personally-interesting posts.

Finally, they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery... ; )

As ever, your feedback and thoughts are treasured—feel free to comment here or drop by our facebook group*.

*Link requires facebook login.

Existing and Emerging Privacy-based Limits In Litigation and Electronic Discovery

trailmixbanner.gif Privacy law is increasingly important in litigation in Canada. Contemporary litigants routinely file requests for access to their personal information under PIPEDA and its provincial counterparts. Such requests can give a party a partial head-start on litigation discovery, or aid a party in rooting out information held by an opponent or potential opponent. That said, with some possible room for improvement (at least in the case of PIPEDA), [1] data protection law in Canada takes a relatively hands-off approach when it comes to legal proceedings. Parties in legal proceedings are generally required to disclose information in accordance with long-standing litigation rules and are largely exempted from restrictions that might otherwise be applicable under data protection laws in other contexts. Yet, this does not mean that privacy considerations are not relevant or applicable to discovery in legal proceedings. This short article identifies some existing and emerging privacy-based limits in litigation discovery Continue reading "Existing and Emerging Privacy-based Limits In Litigation and Electronic Discovery"

NSS is FIPS 140-2 level 2 validated

Bob Lord reports that NSS (Network Security Services), the crypto library that powers software such as Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office, and Fedora directory server, has recently been FIPS 140-2 level 2 validated by NIST. This is an important milestone because NSS is the only open source crypto library that is validated to level 2 (the highest available certification for software). Level 1 allows use in a single user environment, while level 2 allows a multi-user environment: and that not inconsiderable detail allows NSS based software to be deployed into security sensitive environments that resemble the commonly used configuration for modern operating systems.

This is also an important milestone because it means that software applications that use the NSS library for crypto while also following the security policy of the validation are also legitimately able to claim compliance. The reason for that is that NSS draws the crypto boundary behind its APIs and no private keys are accessible to applications. This means that a whole bunch of software just became usable in an ever increasing number of environments requiring FIPS 140-2 level 2 validation.

Congratulations to the NSS team.

Sacred Zones

A news item that appeared on American newswires today has led me to think in a new way about identity, both digital and otherwise. The first few paragraphs:

BLANCHARD, Mich. — Some Amish farmers say a state requirement that they tag cattle with electronic chips is a violation of their religious beliefs.

Last year, the state Department of Agriculture announced that Michigan cattle leaving farms must be tagged in the ear with electronic identification as part of an effort to combat bovine tuberculosis.

That has drawn some resistance from the Amish, who typically shun technology, The Grand Rapids Press reported Sunday. In April, Glen Mast and other Amish farmers appeared before the state Senate Appropriations Committee, urging it to block the program.

“We’re never happier than when we’re just left alone,” said Mast, whose farm in Isabella County operates without electricity. “That’s all we’re asking.”

State officials say the ability to trace food sources is increasingly important in the global economy.

But more important to the smooth functioning of the “global economy”, I would argue, is the ancient legal doctrine known to the eminently practical Romans as res extra commercium, closely related to that of res sacrae: the idea that some things in life are not for sale, and that these things thus “set apart” are the substance of the sacred itself.

Recent discoveries concerning the neuroscience of identity, described by John Henry Clippinger in his recent book A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity, indicate that science is beginning to understand why any form of global governance that elides cultural identity in the name of commerce will know no peace.

The Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa bases his entire philosophy of global governance, which he calls “symbiosis”, on a concept of “sacred zones” comprised of small areas of the economy that are spared from globalization in order to preserve cultural identity:

What I mean by “symbiosis” is a relationship of mutual need — while competition, opposition, and struggle continue. How can mutually opposing, different qualities and aims exist in symbiosis? A concept of sacred zones is, I believe, the key.

[…]

Protecting the diversity of life means protecting the diversity of culture, and actively underwriting such diversity. A symbiotic order is an order in which we recognize others’ differences — and their sacred zones — and compete on that basis. Economic activity can be objectively measured, but the same standards cannot be applied to culture, religion, or lifestyle.

Communities so attuned to the sacred that they can honestly say “We’re never happier than when we’re just left alone” will never be more than a tiny minority like the Amish, nor will the “sacred zones” claimed by Kurokawa, such as the Japanese rice industry and sumo, ever amount to more than a tiny fraction of the “global economy”. The “global economy” will surely survive if it spares these few things from the “laws of the market”, but not if it tramples them.

I wish the Amish of Michigan well in their struggle to be left alone.

Blogging While Female, Online Inequality and the Law

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“Those who worry about the perils women face behind closed doors in the real world will also find analogous perils facing women in cyberspace. Rape, sexual harassment, prying, eavesdropping, emotional injury, and accidents happen in cyberspace and as a consequence of interaction that commences in cyberspace.”

- Anita Allen, “Gender and Privacy” (2000) 52 Stan. L Rev. at 1184.

In 2006, the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering released a study assessing the threat of attacks associated with the chat medium IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The authors observed that users with female identifiers were “far more likely” to receive malicious private messages and slightly more likely to receive files and links. [1] Users with ambiguous names were less likely to receive malicious private messages than female users, but more likely to receive them than male users. [2] The results of the study indicated that the attacks came from human chat-users who selected their targets, rather than automated scripts programmed to send attacks to everyone on the channel.

The findings of this study highlight the realities that many women face when they are online. From the early days of cyberspace, women who identify as female are frequently subject to hostility and harassment in gendered and sexually threatening terms. [3] These actions typically stem from anonymous users.

Recent news articles from around the world have chronicled the latest spate of online misogyny. [4] Not only have the women bloggers in these cases been personally threatened, their images distorted and disseminated, in some cases their blogs and websites have also been subject to denial of service (DoS) attacks. Feminists [5] and women who blog about contentious political or social issues are not the only women who are singled out for abuse. Similar patterns of violent threats have also been directed toward women who blog about the daily life of a single mother, [6] computer programming, [7] and a variety of ordinary interests on sites with a female following, but no feminist content or agenda.

The effects of repeated online harassment has profound consequences for women’s equality online and in the real world. Online threats and attacks can have had a chilling effect on women’s expression. [8] Some women may either stop participating in open online forums, unless under the cloak of anonymity or pseudonymity, or self-censor their speech, rather than risk being the subject of violent threats or DoS attacks. These choices reduce a woman’s online identity to being the invisible woman, or a quieter, edited version of herself. Fortunately, women actively continue to blog and participate in cyber-life in the face of threats and harassment, with the support of both women and men in online communities.

Women’s retreat from the Internet can also have an economic impact on those seeking entry into technology-based labour markets. One prominent technology blogger observed: “If women aren’t willing to show up for networking events [because of harassment], either offline or online, then they’re never going to be included in the industry.” [9] Women’s absence from the creative process also has implications for equality in terms of influencing what kinds of technology are made, and what societal interests those innovations ultimately serve. [10]

To date, the law has provided a limited response to harms directed against women online. Traditional torts such as defamation are available, but are difficult to pursue against multiple, anonymous individuals who could be anywhere in the world. In light of the uncertainly in Canadian case law, [11] a claim for invasion of privacy would be very challenging to make in the absence of an appellate level decision recognizing the right to privacy. An action for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress may also be possible, although plaintiffs must meet stringent standards to succeed. [12] Complainants may have difficulty overcoming the view that in the absence of physical contact, no real harm can be inflicted in the virtual world, particularly within the context of fantasy/gaming environments.

Without a more complete and critical examination of actions that target women in cyberspace, there is the danger of reinforcing substantive inequality by dismissing the individual and social harm experienced as an “natural” part of online life. Although tort actions represent some avenues for redress, they are individual, private law remedies that do not speak to the public nature of harms against women. While criminal sanctions for assault, obscenity, hate speech and uttering threats are possible, they would only apply if actions could be proved to fall within Criminal Code [13] definitions and precedents. It should not be forgotten that women continue to face difficulties with the law in seeking protection from, and compensation for violence, harassment, discrimination and exploitation experienced in the real world. [14]

Given the market drive for more intense and realistic sensory experiences in the virtual world, it is not far-fetched to foresee online acts that more closely reflect conventional legal and social notions of physical and sexual violence in the future. [15] As “[t]he courts will increasingly be confronted with issues that are ‘lying in wait’ as virtual worlds expand,” [16] so too will feminists, lawyers, and policy makers be faced with opportunities to think about how to expand the law in favour of greater equality.

[1] Robert Meyer and Michel Cukier, “Assessing the Attack Threat due to IRC Channels,” (2006) University of Maryland School of Engineering, at 5-6 http://www.enre.umd.edu/content/rmeyer-assessing.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] See Rebecca K. Lee, “Romantic and Electronic Stalking in a College Context,” (1998) 4 WM. & Mary J. Women & L. 373 at 404, 405-6 which discusses sexual harassment from e-mail messages, in chat rooms, and Usenet newsgroups. A well-known account of sexualized threats towards female and androgynous virtual personas and the emotional harm experienced by the real-life participants is in Julian Dibbell’s, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” My Tiny Life (1998), ch. 1 http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/bungle.html.
[4] Jessica Valenti, “How the web became a sexists’ paradise” The UK Guardian (April 6, 2007) http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2051394,00.html; Anna Greer, “Misogyny bares its teeth on Internet,” Sydney Morning Herald (August 21, 2007) http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/misogyny-bares-its-teeth-on-internet/2007/08/20/1187462171087.html;
Ellen Nakashima, “Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers,” Washington Post (April 30, 2007)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/29/AR2007042901555_pf.html
[5] See Posts on “Greatest Hits: The Public Woman” and “What do we do about Online Harassment?” on Feministe http://feministe.powweb.com/blog/archives/2007/08/09/what-do-we-do-about-online-harassment/?s=online+harassment&submit=Search
[6] Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, supra note 4.
[7] BBC News, “Blog Death Threat Sparks Debate” (27 March 2007) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6499095.stm
[8] Deborah Fallows, “How Women and Men Use the Internet,” Pew Internet & American Life Project (December 28, 2005), at 14 <http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Women_and_Men_online.pdf>. The report states.” “The proportion of internet users who have participated in online chats and discussion groups dropped from 28% in 2000 to as low as 17% in 2005, entirely because of women’s fall off in participation. The drop off occurred during the last few years coincided with increased awareness of and sensitivity to worrisome behavior in chat rooms.”
[9] Nakashima, Washington Post, supra note 4.
[10] For an study on women, technology and power see Judy Wacjman, Technofeminism (Polity Press: Cambridge, UK, 2004).
[11] Recently, lower courts in Ontario have found that complaints are free make a case for invasion of privacy: Somwar v. McDonald’s Restaurant of Canada Ltd., [2006] O.J. No. 64 (Ont. S.C.J.) and Re: Shred-Tech Corp. v. Viveen [2006] O.J. No. 4893. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal has explicitly found that there is no right to privacy in Euteneier v. Lee, [2000] O.J. No. 4533 (SCJ); rev’d [2003] O.J. No. 4239 (SCJ, Div Ct); rev’d (2005) 77 O.R. (2d) 621 (CA) at para 22.
[12] Jennifer McPhee, “New and Novel Torts for Problems in Cyberspace,” Law Times (30 July-August 6 2007) at 13.
[13] Criminal Code ( R.S., 1985, c. C-46 )
[14] Just two examples are: Jane Doe, The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape (Random House: Toronto, 2003) and Patricia Monture-Angus, Thunder in my Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks. (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 1995). For an analysis of the limitations of the Supreme Court’s privacy analysis in obscenity, hate propaganda and child pornography cases, see Jane Bailey, Privacy as a Social Value - ID Trail Mix: http://www.anonequity.org/weblog/archives/2007/04/privacy_as_a_social_value_by_j.php
[15] Lydia Dotto, “Real lawsuits set to materialize from virtual worlds; Harm, theft in online gaming may land players in the courts: Precedents few, but Vancouver lawyer thinks cases coming” Toronto Star (2 May 2005) at D 04 (ProQuest).
[16] Ibid.

Blogging While Female, Online Inequality and the Law

trailmixbanner.gif

“Those who worry about the perils women face behind closed doors in the real world will also find analogous perils facing women in cyberspace. Rape, sexual harassment, prying, eavesdropping, emotional injury, and accidents happen in cyberspace and as a consequence of interaction that commences in cyberspace.”

- Anita Allen, “Gender and Privacy” (2000) 52 Stan. L Rev. at 1184.

In 2006, the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering released a study assessing the threat of attacks associated with the chat medium IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The authors observed that users with female identifiers were “far more likely” to receive malicious private messages and slightly more likely to receive files and links. [1] Users with ambiguous names were less likely to receive malicious private messages than female users, but more likely to receive them than male users. [2] The results of the study indicated that the attacks came from human chat-users who selected their targets, rather than automated scripts programmed to send attacks to everyone on the channel.

The findings of this study highlight the realities that many women face when they are online. From the early days of cyberspace, women who identify as female are frequently subject to hostility and harassment in gendered and sexually threatening terms. [3] These actions typically stem from anonymous users.

Recent news articles from around the world have chronicled the latest spate of online misogyny. [4] Not only have the women bloggers in these cases been personally threatened, their images distorted and disseminated, in some cases their blogs and websites have also been subject to denial of service (DoS) attacks. Feminists [5] and women who blog about contentious political or social issues are not the only women who are singled out for abuse. Similar patterns of violent threats have also been directed toward women who blog about the daily life of a single mother, [6] computer programming, [7] and a variety of ordinary interests on sites with a female following, but no feminist content or agenda.

The effects of repeated online harassment has profound consequences for women’s equality online and in the real world. Online threats and attacks can have had a chilling effect on women’s expression. [8] Some women may either stop participating in open online forums, unless under the cloak of anonymity or pseudonymity, or self-censor their speech, rather than risk being the subject of violent threats or DoS attacks. These choices reduce a woman’s online identity to being the invisible woman, or a quieter, edited version of herself. Fortunately, women actively continue to blog and participate in cyber-life in the face of threats and harassment, with the support of both women and men in online communities.

Women’s retreat from the Internet can also have an economic impact on those seeking entry into technology-based labour markets. One prominent technology blogger observed: “If women aren’t willing to show up for networking events [because of harassment], either offline or online, then they’re never going to be included in the industry.” [9] Women’s absence from the creative process also has implications for equality in terms of influencing what kinds of technology are made, and what societal interests those innovations ultimately serve. [10]

To date, the law has provided a limited response to harms directed against women online. Traditional torts such as defamation are available, but are difficult to pursue against multiple, anonymous individuals who could be anywhere in the world. In light of the uncertainly in Canadian case law, [11] a claim for invasion of privacy would be very challenging to make in the absence of an appellate level decision recognizing the right to privacy. An action for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress may also be possible, although plaintiffs must meet stringent standards to succeed. [12] Complainants may have difficulty overcoming the view that in the absence of physical contact, no real harm can be inflicted in the virtual world, particularly within the context of fantasy/gaming environments.

Without a more complete and critical examination of actions that target women in cyberspace, there is the danger of reinforcing substantive inequality by dismissing the individual and social harm experienced as an “natural” part of online life. Although tort actions represent some avenues for redress, they are individual, private law remedies that do not speak to the public nature of harms against women. While criminal sanctions for assault, obscenity, hate speech and uttering threats are possible, they would only apply if actions could be proved to fall within Criminal Code [13] definitions and precedents. It should not be forgotten that women continue to face difficulties with the law in seeking protection from, and compensation for violence, harassment, discrimination and exploitation experienced in the real world. [14]

Given the market drive for more intense and realistic sensory experiences in the virtual world, it is not far-fetched to foresee online acts that more closely reflect conventional legal and social notions of physical and sexual violence in the future. [15] As “[t]he courts will increasingly be confronted with issues that are ‘lying in wait’ as virtual worlds expand,” [16] so too will feminists, lawyers, and policy makers be faced with opportunities to think about how to expand the law in favour of greater equality.

[1] Robert Meyer and Michel Cukier, “Assessing the Attack Threat due to IRC Channels,” (2006) University of Maryland School of Engineering, at 5-6 http://www.enre.umd.edu/content/rmeyer-assessing.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] See Rebecca K. Lee, “Romantic and Electronic Stalking in a College Context,” (1998) 4 WM. & Mary J. Women & L. 373 at 404, 405-6 which discusses sexual harassment from e-mail messages, in chat rooms, and Usenet newsgroups. A well-known account of sexualized threats towards female and androgynous virtual personas and the emotional harm experienced by the real-life participants is in Julian Dibbell’s, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” My Tiny Life (1998), ch. 1 http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/bungle.html.
[4] Jessica Valenti, “How the web became a sexists’ paradise” The UK Guardian (April 6, 2007) http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2051394,00.html; Anna Greer, “Misogyny bares its teeth on Internet,” Sydney Morning Herald (August 21, 2007) http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/misogyny-bares-its-teeth-on-internet/2007/08/20/1187462171087.html;
Ellen Nakashima, “Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers,” Washington Post (April 30, 2007)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/29/AR2007042901555_pf.html
[5] See Posts on “Greatest Hits: The Public Woman” and “What do we do about Online Harassment?” on Feministe http://feministe.powweb.com/blog/archives/2007/08/09/what-do-we-do-about-online-harassment/?s=online+harassment&submit=Search
[6] Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, supra note 4.
[7] BBC News, “Blog Death Threat Sparks Debate” (27 March 2007) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6499095.stm
[8] Deborah Fallows, “How Women and Men Use the Internet,” Pew Internet & American Life Project (December 28, 2005), at 14 <http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Women_and_Men_online.pdf>. The report states.” “The proportion of internet users who have participated in online chats and discussion groups dropped from 28% in 2000 to as low as 17% in 2005, entirely because of women’s fall off in participation. The drop off occurred during the last few years coincided with increased awareness of and sensitivity to worrisome behavior in chat rooms.”
[9] Nakashima, Washington Post, supra note 4.
[10] For an study on women, technology and power see Judy Wacjman, Technofeminism (Polity Press: Cambridge, UK, 2004).
[11] Recently, lower courts in Ontario have found that complaints are free make a case for invasion of privacy: Somwar v. McDonald’s Restaurant of Canada Ltd., [2006] O.J. No. 64 (Ont. S.C.J.) and Re: Shred-Tech Corp. v. Viveen [2006] O.J. No. 4893. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal has explicitly found that there is no right to privacy in Euteneier v. Lee, [2000] O.J. No. 4533 (SCJ); rev’d [2003] O.J. No. 4239 (SCJ, Div Ct); rev’d (2005) 77 O.R. (2d) 621 (CA) at para 22.
[12] Jennifer McPhee, “New and Novel Torts for Problems in Cyberspace,” Law Times (30 July-August 6 2007) at 13.
[13] Criminal Code ( R.S., 1985, c. C-46 )
[14] Just two examples are: Jane Doe, The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape (Random House: Toronto, 2003) and Patricia Monture-Angus, Thunder in my Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks. (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 1995). For an analysis of the limitations of the Supreme Court’s privacy analysis in obscenity, hate propaganda and child pornography cases, see Jane Bailey, Privacy as a Social Value - ID Trail Mix: http://www.anonequity.org/weblog/archives/2007/04/privacy_as_a_social_value_by_j.php
[15] Lydia Dotto, “Real lawsuits set to materialize from virtual worlds; Harm, theft in online gaming may land players in the courts: Precedents few, but Vancouver lawyer thinks cases coming” Toronto Star (2 May 2005) at D 04 (ProQuest).
[16] Ibid.

Identity Society—happenings and musings

I found the Mobile Monday "Mobile Digital Identity" event at SUN pretty interesting. Alex Craxton (his report here) did a great job of organising and MD-ing the evening, and the panel session seemed to go well.

As ever, though, the topic of identity quickly escaped the confines of "mobile" and we ended up talking about facebook and its privacy implications! The discussion reminded me a lot of the "Dark Side of Social Media" Chinwag event the other month, with both panel and audience divided between the privacy worriers and the information-must-be-free advocates.

I guess I attempt to span both camps with my "i-together" philosophy, which goes something like this:

It's natural that human beings assert and protect the boundaries of their individual identity in "win-lose" situations (my money, not yours!—"i"); on the other hand, people allow those boundaries to become increasingly permeable to others as they discover mutual interests and common purpose (saving the planet etc.—"together").

The individual and collective aspects of identity look set to weave ever more intricately through one another in our evolving culture, creating all sorts of social patterns at many scales ("i-together"). And networked technologies like facebook and new mobile capabilities are only accelerating the pace of the identity loom's machinations.

A weaver's view, you might say.

Incidentally, Charla and I spent a lovely day with my friend John Madelin and his delightful family yesterday, and John and I took the opportunity to make some good progress on the Identity Society wiki. Do check it out and edit away!

Identity Society—happenings and musings

I found the Mobile Monday "Mobile Digital Identity" event at SUN pretty interesting. Alex Craxton (his report here) did a great job of organising and MD-ing the evening, and the panel session seemed to go well.

As ever, though, the topic of identity quickly escaped the confines of "mobile" and we ended up talking about facebook and its privacy implications! The discussion reminded me a lot of the "Dark Side of Social Media" Chinwag event the other month, with both panel and audience divided between the privacy worriers and the information-must-be-free advocates.

I guess I attempt to span both camps with my "i-together" philosophy, which goes something like this:

It's natural that human beings assert and protect the boundaries of their individual identity in "win-lose" situations (my money, not yours!—"i"); on the other hand, people allow those boundaries to become increasingly permeable to others as they discover mutual interests and common purpose (saving the planet etc.—"together").

The individual and collective aspects of identity look set to weave ever more intricately through one another in our evolving culture, creating all sorts of social patterns at many scales ("i-together"). And networked technologies like facebook and new mobile capabilities are only accelerating the pace of the identity loom's machinations.

A weaver's view, you might say.

Incidentally, Charla and I spent a lovely day with my friend John Madelin and his delightful family yesterday, and John and I took the opportunity to make some good progress on the Identity Society wiki. Do check it out and edit away!

Authentic[N]ation

trailmixbanner.gif

A short story on the ID Trail

**********

Incorrect username or password. Please try again.

He tried again.

**********

Incorrect username or password. Please try again.

He tried again.

Incorrect username or password. Your ID is now locked. Please proceed to the nearest SECURE ID Validation Center for formal authentication. The nearest location can be found using the GoogleFED Search Tool.

After sitting stunned for a couple moments, Ross began to appreciate the full gravity of the situation. His ID was frozen. Everything was frozen. He just couldn't remember his damn PIN and that was the end of it. No PIN. No renewal. No ID. No authentication. No anything.

Since the government had launched the Single Enhanced Certification Using Reviewed Examination [SECURE] initiative, he really hadn't thought too much about it. Aside from a couple of headlines describing massive budget overruns and the usual privacy geeks heralding the end of the world, the New Government had pushed everything through without much fanfare.

That was four years ago. Since Ross already had a passport, the conversion to SECURE ID was pretty painless. He vaguely remembered something to do with a strand of hair and that they didn't even give him a card or anything, just read him his reauthorization PIN, thanked him for his time, and took his passport.

Since the carbon rationing system came into place in 2012, Ross really hadn't traveled anywhere off-line. There was no way he was going to save up carbon credits just to take a damn flight to some 45° cesspool. Plus, Google Travel could put him anywhere in the world in two clicks. A couple weeks ago he made some sangria and hit-up all the top clubs in Spain. He even bought a t-shirt at one which arrived in the mail two days later. That's why the SECURE ID renewal caught him off guard – it just rarely came-up for someone in his position.

Ross was just trying to buy a new snowboard for his Third Life avatar when things went wrong. He was notified that the transaction could not be processed because his GoogleCash account had been frozen pending authorization of his SECURE ID. Like just about everything else on or off-line, his identity was always confirmed back to this single source. While his ID Keychain supported a Federated identity management system in which he currently had 47 profiles (male, female, and gecko), they were all meaningless without reference to the master ID.

The SECURE system required multiple layers of redundancy. The PIN component would be required in addition to variable biometric authenticators. He had specifically written his 10 digit reauthentication PIN on a piece of paper and put it somewhere “safe.” So much for high-tech. That was four years ago and now, “safe” could be anywhere. The idea behind the routine expiry of SECURE IDs was to prevent identity theft from the deceased using stolen biometrics. Grave-robbing had been rampant for the first couple years of the program.

Ross grabbed his jacket and headed off to the SECURE ID Validation Center downtown knowing full well that he was as good as useless until he could authenticate himself.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The SECURE ID Validation Center was run by Veritas-SECURE, a public-private-partnership born of the New Deal 3.0. The idea was to exploit private-sector efficiencies while delivering top-notch public services. This P3 mantra had been something of an ongoing joke for years now but the government was unlikely to admit the error of its ways any time soon. Interestingly, the company that won the contract also ran the municipal waste disposal system. The critics couldn't stop talking about “synergies” and “leveraging technical expertise” when the winning bid was announced.

Ross arrived at the blue-glassed Veritas facility just after noon. He couldn't even buy lunch because the digital wallet in his phone had been deactivated when his SECURE ID was frozen. The day before, Ross had been mired in expense reports, cursing his multiple digital cash accounts associated with different profiles, devices, and credit sources.

Today, he had been thwarted by the keystone ID, the one that held everything else together and couldn’t be separated from his DNA.

The line for Formal Authentication zigzagged around two corners of the building against a cold marble wall. The only consolation was a nice big overhang covering the identity refugees from a light rain. He stepped into line behind a professional looking man with a brown leather briefcase and gray sports jacket.

Normally, he would've passed the time by watching movies on his iPod. Along with everything else, the DRM on his iPod was frozen pending authentication. The days of watching movies, or doing much of anything without authentication had evaporated long ago.

After a couple minutes of preliminary boredom, he tapped the gentleman with the briefcase on the shoulder asking with generalized ennui “Is this line even moving?”

“It depends how you define moving” the man replied, “if you're talking physics, then the answer is not for at least an hour. If you mean the decay of civil rights, then I guess you might say that we’re racing straight to the bottom.”

Somewhat surprised by the unprovoked disapproval, Ross was just happy to have a conversation to pass the time. He nodded his head enthusiastically. “This new ID system is only moderately infuriating though” he said. “I just hate these queues and the way they always try to make you feel like you're just another number.”

“Are you kidding? I would love nothing more than to be a number. Instead, I'm cursed with Jihad!” the man spat the final words.

Ross glanced up anxiously looking for the nearest Proxycam. Those things all had microphones and speakers these days and he was sure that the unit would ask the two of them to step out of line for questioning. Nothing happened.

The man quickly realized his error and extended his right hand saying. “I’m very sorry if I shocked you. My name is Jihad Azim, but everyone calls me Azi. I’m a university professor.”

Ross relaxed immediately, shaking the man’s hand as Azi continued “It’s just that my name brings me no end of grief. Jihad is actually a somewhat common name, but that sure isn't what you find with a Google search. The reason I'm stuck in this forsaken line is that they've red flagged my SECURE ID again! It happens every couple of weeks. I'm supposed to fly to Scottsdale for a conference tomorrow, but I'm pretty much grounded until I get this cleared up. The minions at the airport could neither confirm nor deny that the sky was blue, so I had to come down here. That's why I'd like nothing more than to be identified as a number. Then at least some fool with a grade 9 education wouldn't be fighting a holy war against my parents’ choice of name.”

“But couldn't you just change your name?” Ross asked, without giving it much thought.

“I could, but then I'd have a yellow flag on my ID noting that there'd been a change to my identity profile. That could be even worse. A colleague of mine has retinal implants and had to have her SECURE ID changed accordingly. Now she can't do anything without being questioned about the changes.” Azi said.

“I couldn't help but hear you two,” said a woman who had approached behind Ross and was pushing a stroller. “I know that this new system has been hard on some people, but you've gotta admit that this whole country is safer for it.”

Ross could see that this logic was going to make Azi angry, so he intervened first, questioning “But don't you think that sacrificing anonymity and privacy in the name of security is something of a false dichotomy?” Ross wasn’t entirely sure what he’d said, but he'd heard the line before and was satisfied that it sounded smart.

“Well, there might have been a better way.” She replied, “But I don't mind sacrificing a little privacy. I don't have anything to hide. And my daughter here, I'd gladly sacrifice my privacy for the security of my daughter. I can't bear to think of all those sickos out there. We’re here today for her first formal authentication so that they can confirm the samples they took at birth. Did you know that the SECURE ID is issued at birth now? I feel better knowing that she's already in the system.”

“You people are so out of it,” a new voice chimed in, “haven't you ever stopped to ask what an ID really is? It's not a number or name.” It was a young woman sitting crosslegged in front of Azi and wearing a pair of yoga jeans.

She continued “Identity doesn't come from some guy behind a computer representing the Government. Identity is how you tell the world who you are. My identity changes all the time. Like when I get a new job, or new friends, or a new hook-up. It seems like the older you get, the more attached you get to who you are. I don’t really care, for the last two weeks my avatar was a gecko.”

“No kidding.” Ross nostalgically remembered going through his gecko days.

The young woman cleared her throat and continued “The point is, you can't let The Man tell you who you are. It should be the other way around. We should control our identities.”

“So why are you here then?” the new mother retorted sarcastically. “Shouldn't you be busy launching DoS attacks against the ‘corporate agenda’ and all the complicit government agencies that hold it together?”

“I want to go volunteer at a monastery in New Burma, but The Man won't let me leave the country without a valid SECURE ID.”

Ross jumped-in noting “Hey, I was at a New Burmese monastery a couple weeks ago with Google Travel. Because of the time change, prayers don’t begin until four in the afternoon our time. Its perfect.”

The young woman was clearly not impressed. “No, like a REAL monastery with air and things you can touch.”

Ross had this debate all the time. “But…”

Azi was clearly not impressed by where this was going and interrupted “Well, I appreciate your helpful commentary. On the way to Scottsdale, maybe I’ll try ‘I am whoever I say I am and I choose to fly anonymously. If you absolutely must be provided with an ID, I happen to enjoy green tea, string theory, and the colour orange. Now please let me board the plane.”

As Azi was dismissing the young woman, a man in a gray suit neared Ross and stared blankly into the horizon of the queue. The man's pale face looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Hey, so what's your story?” Ross couldn't help but ask.

“Ummm, I don’t know” the man replied.

“You don’t know? How can you not know?” Ross said.

“I just don’t know who I am anymore.” the man stuttered. “my identity has been stolen.”

The others gasped.

“Well, it's not that I don't know who I am, it’s just that the system has canceled my identity file as a result of concurrent use. There’s no way to verify that I am who I say I am because all my biometrics in have been compromised.”

The others remained silent. The SECURE ID system had been designed to be unbreakable. The authentication routine is so strong, and identity theft so difficult, that victim recovery remained nearly impossible. Everybody knew this. The only option was to create a new ID and start from scratch. The media labeled these victims “Born Agains.” Ross hadn't actually met one, but he’d read a couple blogs describing depressing encounters with these unfortunate souls. It was like being killed but leaving the body left to rot.

The young woman stood up, approached the identityless man, gave him a hug and gently requested: “Please, go in front of me.” The others tried not to make eye contact.

Out of sight and far down the line came a call for: “NEXT!” The line moved forward one meter.


Fin


Jeremy Hessing-Lewis is a law student at the University of Ottawa. He is writing a travel guide entitled “101 Must See Hikes in Google Maps” as well as his first novel “Things That are Square” (2009).

Authentic[N]ation

trailmixbanner.gif

A short story on the ID Trail

**********

Incorrect username or password. Please try again.

He tried again.

**********

Incorrect username or password. Please try again.

He tried again.

Incorrect username or password. Your ID is now locked. Please proceed to the nearest SECURE ID Validation Center for formal authentication. The nearest location can be found using the GoogleFED Search Tool.

After sitting stunned for a couple moments, Ross began to appreciate the full gravity of the situation. His ID was frozen. Everything was frozen. He just couldn't remember his damn PIN and that was the end of it. No PIN. No renewal. No ID. No authentication. No anything.

Since the government had launched the Single Enhanced Certification Using Reviewed Examination [SECURE] initiative, he really hadn't thought too much about it. Aside from a couple of headlines describing massive budget overruns and the usual privacy geeks heralding the end of the world, the New Government had pushed everything through without much fanfare.

That was four years ago. Since Ross already had a passport, the conversion to SECURE ID was pretty painless. He vaguely remembered something to do with a strand of hair and that they didn't even give him a card or anything, just read him his reauthorization PIN, thanked him for his time, and took his passport.

Since the carbon rationing system came into place in 2012, Ross really hadn't traveled anywhere off-line. There was no way he was going to save up carbon credits just to take a damn flight to some 45° cesspool. Plus, Google Travel could put him anywhere in the world in two clicks. A couple weeks ago he made some sangria and hit-up all the top clubs in Spain. He even bought a t-shirt at one which arrived in the mail two days later. That's why the SECURE ID renewal caught him off guard – it just rarely came-up for someone in his position.

Ross was just trying to buy a new snowboard for his Third Life avatar when things went wrong. He was notified that the transaction could not be processed because his GoogleCash account had been frozen pending authorization of his SECURE ID. Like just about everything else on or off-line, his identity was always confirmed back to this single source. While his ID Keychain supported a Federated identity management system in which he currently had 47 profiles (male, female, and gecko), they were all meaningless without reference to the master ID.

The SECURE system required multiple layers of redundancy. The PIN component would be required in addition to variable biometric authenticators. He had specifically written his 10 digit reauthentication PIN on a piece of paper and put it somewhere “safe.” So much for high-tech. That was four years ago and now, “safe” could be anywhere. The idea behind the routine expiry of SECURE IDs was to prevent identity theft from the deceased using stolen biometrics. Grave-robbing had been rampant for the first couple years of the program.

Ross grabbed his jacket and headed off to the SECURE ID Validation Center downtown knowing full well that he was as good as useless until he could authenticate himself.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The SECURE ID Validation Center was run by Veritas-SECURE, a public-private-partnership born of the New Deal 3.0. The idea was to exploit private-sector efficiencies while delivering top-notch public services. This P3 mantra had been something of an ongoing joke for years now but the government was unlikely to admit the error of its ways any time soon. Interestingly, the company that won the contract also ran the municipal waste disposal system. The critics couldn't stop talking about “synergies” and “leveraging technical expertise” when the winning bid was announced.

Ross arrived at the blue-glassed Veritas facility just after noon. He couldn't even buy lunch because the digital wallet in his phone had been deactivated when his SECURE ID was frozen. The day before, Ross had been mired in expense reports, cursing his multiple digital cash accounts associated with different profiles, devices, and credit sources.

Today, he had been thwarted by the keystone ID, the one that held everything else together and couldn’t be separated from his DNA.

The line for Formal Authentication zigzagged around two corners of the building against a cold marble wall. The only consolation was a nice big overhang covering the identity refugees from a light rain. He stepped into line behind a professional looking man with a brown leather briefcase and gray sports jacket.

Normally, he would've passed the time by watching movies on his iPod. Along with everything else, the DRM on his iPod was frozen pending authentication. The days of watching movies, or doing much of anything without authentication had evaporated long ago.

After a couple minutes of preliminary boredom, he tapped the gentleman with the briefcase on the shoulder asking with generalized ennui “Is this line even moving?”

“It depends how you define moving” the man replied, “if you're talking physics, then the answer is not for at least an hour. If you mean the decay of civil rights, then I guess you might say that we’re racing straight to the bottom.”

Somewhat surprised by the unprovoked disapproval, Ross was just happy to have a conversation to pass the time. He nodded his head enthusiastically. “This new ID system is only moderately infuriating though” he said. “I just hate these queues and the way they always try to make you feel like you're just another number.”

“Are you kidding? I would love nothing more than to be a number. Instead, I'm cursed with Jihad!” the man spat the final words.

Ross glanced up anxiously looking for the nearest Proxycam. Those things all had microphones and speakers these days and he was sure that the unit would ask the two of them to step out of line for questioning. Nothing happened.

The man quickly realized his error and extended his right hand saying. “I’m very sorry if I shocked you. My name is Jihad Azim, but everyone calls me Azi. I’m a university professor.”

Ross relaxed immediately, shaking the man’s hand as Azi continued “It’s just that my name brings me no end of grief. Jihad is actually a somewhat common name, but that sure isn't what you find with a Google search. The reason I'm stuck in this forsaken line is that they've red flagged my SECURE ID again! It happens every couple of weeks. I'm supposed to fly to Scottsdale for a conference tomorrow, but I'm pretty much grounded until I get this cleared up. The minions at the airport could neither confirm nor deny that the sky was blue, so I had to come down here. That's why I'd like nothing more than to be identified as a number. Then at least some fool with a grade 9 education wouldn't be fighting a holy war against my parents’ choice of name.”

“But couldn't you just change your name?” Ross asked, without giving it much thought.

“I could, but then I'd have a yellow flag on my ID noting that there'd been a change to my identity profile. That could be even worse. A colleague of mine has retinal implants and had to have her SECURE ID changed accordingly. Now she can't do anything without being questioned about the changes.” Azi said.

“I couldn't help but hear you two,” said a woman who had approached behind Ross and was pushing a stroller. “I know that this new system has been hard on some people, but you've gotta admit that this whole country is safer for it.”

Ross could see that this logic was going to make Azi angry, so he intervened first, questioning “But don't you think that sacrificing anonymity and privacy in the name of security is something of a false dichotomy?” Ross wasn’t entirely sure what he’d said, but he'd heard the line before and was satisfied that it sounded smart.

“Well, there might have been a better way.” She replied, “But I don't mind sacrificing a little privacy. I don't have anything to hide. And my daughter here, I'd gladly sacrifice my privacy for the security of my daughter. I can't bear to think of all those sickos out there. We’re here today for her first formal authentication so that they can confirm the samples they took at birth. Did you know that the SECURE ID is issued at birth now? I feel better knowing that she's already in the system.”

“You people are so out of it,” a new voice chimed in, “haven't you ever stopped to ask what an ID really is? It's not a number or name.” It was a young woman sitting crosslegged in front of Azi and wearing a pair of yoga jeans.

She continued “Identity doesn't come from some guy behind a computer representing the Government. Identity is how you tell the world who you are. My identity changes all the time. Like when I get a new job, or new friends, or a new hook-up. It seems like the older you get, the more attached you get to who you are. I don’t really care, for the last two weeks my avatar was a gecko.”

“No kidding.” Ross nostalgically remembered going through his gecko days.

The young woman cleared her throat and continued “The point is, you can't let The Man tell you who you are. It should be the other way around. We should control our identities.”

“So why are you here then?” the new mother retorted sarcastically. “Shouldn't you be busy launching DoS attacks against the ‘corporate agenda’ and all the complicit government agencies that hold it together?”

“I want to go volunteer at a monastery in New Burma, but The Man won't let me leave the country without a valid SECURE ID.”

Ross jumped-in noting “Hey, I was at a New Burmese monastery a couple weeks ago with Google Travel. Because of the time change, prayers don’t begin until four in the afternoon our time. Its perfect.”

The young woman was clearly not impressed. “No, like a REAL monastery with air and things you can touch.”

Ross had this debate all the time. “But…”

Azi was clearly not impressed by where this was going and interrupted “Well, I appreciate your helpful commentary. On the way to Scottsdale, maybe I’ll try ‘I am whoever I say I am and I choose to fly anonymously. If you absolutely must be provided with an ID, I happen to enjoy green tea, string theory, and the colour orange. Now please let me board the plane.”

As Azi was dismissing the young woman, a man in a gray suit neared Ross and stared blankly into the horizon of the queue. The man's pale face looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Hey, so what's your story?” Ross couldn't help but ask.

“Ummm, I don’t know” the man replied.

“You don’t know? How can you not know?” Ross said.

“I just don’t know who I am anymore.” the man stuttered. “my identity has been stolen.”

The others gasped.

“Well, it's not that I don't know who I am, it’s just that the system has canceled my identity file as a result of concurrent use. There’s no way to verify that I am who I say I am because all my biometrics in have been compromised.”

The others remained silent. The SECURE ID system had been designed to be unbreakable. The authentication routine is so strong, and identity theft so difficult, that victim recovery remained nearly impossible. Everybody knew this. The only option was to create a new ID and start from scratch. The media labeled these victims “Born Agains.” Ross hadn't actually met one, but he’d read a couple blogs describing depressing encounters with these unfortunate souls. It was like being killed but leaving the body left to rot.

The young woman stood up, approached the identityless man, gave him a hug and gently requested: “Please, go in front of me.” The others tried not to make eye contact.

Out of sight and far down the line came a call for: “NEXT!” The line moved forward one meter.


Fin


Jeremy Hessing-Lewis is a law student at the University of Ottawa. He is writing a travel guide entitled “101 Must See Hikes in Google Maps” as well as his first novel “Things That are Square” (2009).

What’s next after Google? The Private Identity Network?

Just as Google came along a few years ago and grew to dominate the Internet, something else will take over from Google (the search and ads concept) as the dominant force.

This series of questions and answers outlines not a company, but a prospective industry that could replace Google and search related advertising as the dominant force on the Internet.

That prospective industry is comprised of Private Identity Providers (PIPs) and a single Network Guardian (NG). Together they comprise the Private Identity Network (PIN)- a gated community of individuals who choose to get the most out of the Internet while enjoying optimal privacy and security. The PIN is a virtual shell encapsulating the existing Internet.

What can Private Identity Providers and the Private Identity Network do for us that will make it a replacement for Google as the dominant force?

1. Provision our identity across the Internet so we don't have to remember and enter countless user names, passwords, and captchas.
2. Filter our data both downstream and upstream so our surfing experience is less interrupted by undesirable intrusions.
3. Provide us with absolute anonymity at those sites that allow it
4. Provide us with convenient, repeatable pseudonymity at the sites that allow that
5. Certify our identity off line as enabled by off line partners
6. Provide single sign on to any device, anywhere
7. Provision our identity to access non-PC machines like locks and ticket acceptors
8. Provide a secure repository for our lifetime of data, while allowing limited access for limited purposes by parties we authorize
9. Provide a trusted way to manage intellectual property so creators and users are protected
10. Do all these things at no cost to the user

Is the Private Identity Network "Big Brother"?

1. The PIN is the opposite of "Big Brother" as it is completely voluntary and not coercive
2. The PIN uses market forces rather than coercion to optimize identity and data security
3. The PIN is independent of any governmental entity and is designed to minimize potential governmental intrusions- implementing the PIN should not require government permission as it is a network of individuals making private choices about their identities and data
4. Users must choose to log on and utilize the PIN every time they use a connected device
5. The anonymity provided in using the PIN will be superior to the anonymity available today, as the PIPs will have incentive to provide anonymity services that will be just as strong and reliable as identity services
6. This portion of the post was added after the first few commenters expressed concerns about "Big Brother" and preemptive government regulation .

How does the Private Identity Network and its Private Identity Providers work?

1. Private Identity Providers are peers on the PIN that compete for users by offering the best services and reputation for trustworthiness
2. The PIN is regulated by a Network Guardian, an entity that is owned by its investors, Private Identity Providers, and users
3. The Private Identity Network is a network of people, not machines, only natural persons can be members of the PIN
4. Registering for PIN membership with a Private Identity Provider will involve off line identity documentation, and each person may only have one active registration on the PIN
5. Corporations, governments, and other non-personal entities may be represented on the PIN by persons who present appropriate evidence of their position
6. Upon log on, your Private Identity Provider creates a secure virtual connection to you, Private Identity Providers also have secure connections with each other and the Network Guardian, these links form the PIN as a secure shell around the existing Internet that still has access to the existing Internet

What is the revenue model for Private Identity Providers?

1. Since all your data travels through your Private Identity Provider after log on, you Identity Provider will come to know almost everything about you
2. Since a Private Identity Provider would destroy their reputation by selling anyone's information, they will instead sell "message delivery and response monitoring"
3. An example, if you own a dry cleaning company (like I do) you might want to make a free trial offer to the people in your service area that spend the most on dry cleaning. I would contact some sort of aggregator who would arrange for my offer to be delivered by the various identity providers in the area. After the results came in, I would pay the agreed upon price for how many people actually used the offer. Neither I nor the aggregator would ever have to know the identities of the non-respondents. The desire to get maximum payment would motivate each Private Identity Provider to make sure the message was received by those most likely to respond. Private Identity Providers would not have incentive to bombard their users with irrelevant messages as this would generate no income for them and tarnish their reputation with users.

How does the Network Guardian work?

1. The Network Guardian has three responsibilities- maintain a minimal identification database, accredit Private Identity Providers, and regulate PIPs and users.
2. The Network Guardian member identification database contains only the bare minimum of data to insure that an individual is unique on the PIN, it will likely contain birth name, birth date, birth time and place (birth coordinates) and parent's names. This is information that is already public, at least in the United States. All other identity data will be kept at the PIP level, where the loss of any such data would be devastating to a Private Identity Provider.
3. The Network Guardian will accredit Private Identity Providers based upon their demonstrated ability to secure member data. There may be multiple competing approaches to data security, as that is an intentional and hopefully robust component of the PIN.
4. The Network Guardian will have the power to fine or remove accreditation from a Private Identity Provider. It will also have the power to fine or ban users.
5. The Network Guardian will be structured to avoid regulation or coercion by any government. It will operate within the computing cloud provided by the Private Identity Providers. Its owners and employees will conduct its business behind the screen of their respective PIPs while maintaining transparency in operations by real time open logging of all matters and meetings. The Network Guardian will own no physical property that can be seized or attached by any government.
6. The Network Guardian will generate revenue by a "tax" on Private Identity Providers

Why is the Private Identity Network for natural persons only? What about minors and invalids?

1. That the PIN is a network of natural persons is the fundamental simplification that makes the whole idea workable. Everything you see, hear, say or do on the PIN belongs to you forever. So you must be responsible for your words and actions.
2. Much of what I've read in the identity community is concerned with the complex interactions that arise when people are defined in terms of their associations with non-personal entities such as corporations and governments. The PIN flips that paradigm by treating individuals as the basic units and non-personal entities as temporary attributes.
2. There are a multitude of places where your identity is immaterial, at those places, you will have directed your PIP to not divulge who you are, but rather just that you are a qualified user.
3. There are other places where you prefer to use a pseudonym. Your PIP will provision that aspect of your identity as well, if that place allows it.
4. Minors and invalids can use the PIN by having an account that is sponsored by a PIN member who is willing to be responsible for its use.

How can we possibly get from today to the Private Identity Network?

1. Just one Private Identity Provider can start the whole ball rolling. The Network Guardian doesn't come into play until their are multiple Private Identity Providers.
2. While all the advantages of the PIN cannot be realized until it becomes a dominant force, a single Private Identity Provider can still offer many advantages to its users including single sign on identity provisioning, filtering of data, and data storage
3. Another incentive for users to start using the PIN may be to offer share ownership in the Network Guardian for early adopters. Because of the nature of the Network Guardian, it is important that ownership of that entity be widely dispersed
4. You don't need to trust your Private Identity Provider with everything initially, as your confidence in your PIP grows, you will achieve a comfort level that will eventually have you storing your bank records, medical records, educational records, and everything else- but only when you are ready for that, initially you may just store user names and passwords for the multitude of sites you frequent

In what ways are Private Identity Providers private?

1. PIPs are private, commercial entities that can be as small or grow as large as their ability to attract users
2. PIPs, in order to compete for users, must be as privacy oriented as practical, they are "trust companies" in the same sense that banks used to be before government deposit insurance
3. A PIP is subject to the laws of the land in which it is located, it is anticipated that PIPs, in order to be competitive, will locate in jurisdictions where privacy is relatively respected

Why should I trust any sensitive information to any private company?

1. Because you already do, and in a much less secure and private way than is contemplated here. For example, credit agencies have files on you and you certainly didn't pick them for that task. The PIN allows you to use your consumer power to select who holds the keys to your information.
2. Because a poor alternative is to trust it to a government, with often arbitrary powers to strip you of your life, liberty, and property.
3. Because these private companies, the PIPs, can only grow by earning the trust of the user community- any well publicized intentional or accidental breach of user information will likely do significant damage to their user count
4. To remain competitive, the competing PIPs will, over time, develop various technical and social schemes to slice and distribute your data in such a way that it is protected from all but the most robust attacks, even by insiders

What does the world look like 10 years after the PIN is widespread?

1. The vast majority of people are members of the PIN
2. Their are 3-4 huge PIPs and hundreds of smaller ones.
3. People who are not members of the PIN are treated very suspiciously on line
4. Spam, sock puppetry, phishing, identity theft, and other asocial behaviors are absent from the PIN while still thriving and multiplying on the old insecure Internet
5. Users will enjoy getting highly targeted marketing messages for products and services that match their interests very closely, with an option to turn their volume up or down

What else can Private Identity Provision do for users?

1. It is an all purpose identification system that you don't need to carry with you
2. To identify yourself to any entity that you wish you enter your PIN identification information into any network connected device anywhere, your PIP then returns its certification that you are who you claim to be
3. If you are being forced to provide identity information to a private party, you will have a prearranged alternate log in with your PIP to summon the authorities.
4. If you are being forced by the authorities to provide identity information, you will have a different prearranged alternate log in to notify appropriate individuals and organizations of your plight
5. You identity is the universal key to networked keyed objects- for instance, your house or car can be left unlocked, when someone enters, motion detectors start a timer that gives you adequate time to enter your PIP identification information, if it is not entered, the doors automatically lock and the authorities are summoned, trapping transgressors
6. Your identity is your credit. No need to carry around cards or similar. When paying for items log in to your PIP and probably execute a secondary log in to authorize payment.
7. Your identity is your ticket. Instead of printing tickets for transportation and entertainment, log in as you enter or print out a quick ticket as is currently done by many airlines using a credit card for ID.
8. You can share limited information with limited entities. For instance, you might give your doctor's office a one hour permission to read and append only your medical information. Or give your daughter's prospective college a window in which to examine her high school records.

Where will these Private Identity Providers come from?

1. As is generally true in new industries, the initial players will likely come "out of nowhere"
2. This is a natural fit for banks to expand their present role as caretakers of our money into caretakers of all of our information and identity
3. Existing Internet filter providers may have a technological advantage that would allow them easy entry
4. Google, if they are interested, because, well, they are Google.

What is the purpose of this posting?

1. To find people who would like to get really rich building the PIN
2. To see if there are undetected flaws in this concept
3. To stimulate new thought on identity paradigms
4. To advance the possibility that the several patents pending related to this material will have some value someday
5. To make the Internet safer, more useful and more enjoyable

The following section was added on 10/15/07 after email feedback. Thank you Doc Searls for sending the traffic!

Why is the Private Identity Network revolutionary when compared to the Identity Metasystem?

The PIN requires user uniqueness:

1. Users on the PIN many only have one presence. They cannot pretend to be two different people in interactions where the other parties require uniqueness or register with multiple Identity Providers with fraudulent credentials in order to have multiple presences (allowing that some will get away with some fraud). They may use multiple Identity Providers, but when the do so the Network Guardian will alert other parties if a uniqueness issue arises. This uniqueness is fundamental to the user benefits of the Network since uniqueness creates durable reputations.

The PIN introduces two new parties that don't exist on the IM:

1. Identity Providers- The IM has "identity providers" also but in that usage identity providers are entities with primary purposes other than identity. Identity Providers on the PIN primarily provision identities. Identity provision is not an add on function like it is for businesses, governments, or individuals. Their entire livelihood is predicated upon being a reliable and secure provisioner of identities. They may do other things, but if they fail in their responsibility as identity provisioners, they will lose their users.

2. The single Network Guardian- The IM does not have a controlling authority. I struggled long and hard with this potential problem and concluded that a cooperatively owned and controlled central authority with very limited powers and very limited access to data is possible and essential and can be administered free of governmental force.

The PIN simplifies the problem by removing important classes of parties from the system:

1. Governments- Governments may be represented on the PIN by duly identified individuals who are members individually of the PIN. This is a throwback to an old practice. When I renew my auto registration in my county, I am directed to make out the check directly to David Childs. Since it is publicly known that he is the County Tax Collector, I don't have any problem doing this.

2. Corporations- Like governments and all other forms of non-personal entities corporations may be represented on the PIN by duly identified individuals who are member individually of the PIN. Corporations are "second order" non-personal entities as governments are formed by the people and then corporations are chartered by governments. I would expect that Identity Providers will have more requirements for a member to prove they represent a corporation than to represent a government where the relevant records are much more public.

The PIN simplifies the problem by focusing on the most important component of an identity system:

1. People- the PIN is a network of natural persons. The first members will be personally known to one another and from there will flow the standards necessary to allow the Network to scale. People have natural existences that are relatively easy to track- they are born and they die, they have parents and they have children. This "natural" information is really the only data that needs to be stored by the Network Guardian. Every one of us has a unique birth coordinate and the place and time conventions are widely accepted.

The PIN plan explicitly outlines the incentives for every party:

1. Identity Providers get to make a lot of money by knowing their users and monetizing that knowledge in a way that is both acceptable to the users and protects their data
2. The partners/shareholders of the Network Guardian get to make a little money but will also have control over an organization that will become as important to life on Earth as any existing government, but without owning a single tangible asset or using any physical force
3. Users will enjoy an Internet that is virtually free from it current ills- spam, phishing, accidental encounters with porn, etc. They will also have an enormously greater and higher quality range of services available than is available now or would be available as the Internet continues to expand without the PIN. Over time PIN users will avoid the stigma of not being PIN users in interactions with others where trust is a large factor and the other parties want to know exactly who they are interacting with. This will eventually create a huge incentive for everyone to join the PIN.

The PIN is software, hardware, and business model independent:

1. The PIN is a functional topology, the software to implement it will be developed and improved by the free market competition and trans-network cooperation of the Identity Providers.
2. The PIN is hardware agnostic, it can be accessed from a PC, a cell phone, a networked vehicle or any type of present or future networked device.
3. As long as they meet the accreditation of the Network Guardian, Identity Providers can operate for any reason and way they wish- as non-profits, single individuals, using open source software, proprietary software, to make lots of money, to provide a "no marketing messages" service- whatever the marketplace will bear

The PIN functions as more than just an identity metasystem:

1. If you choose, your Identity Provider can be your data warehouse. It can be your banker. It can be your application provider. Identity Providers, as their users choose, can provide any sort of information service. The market will determine over time which services will best be performed by Identity Providers and which services will go through others, though I believe, from the user's perspective it will likely look like your Identity Provider is doing it all.
2. The PIN is a foundation on which to build the semantic web. If people have real reputations to protect they will fairly and objectively evaluate their own creations and others creations. With a pool of trustworthy creators/critics as wide as the web itself searching the ratings will yield vastly superior results to today's searches.
3. Your Identity Provider can provision your identity in numerous contexts as they connect to the Network. You can be identified to various objects- your car locks, your home locks, your office locks. You can be identified to various entities- as a paid for passenger on an airplane, a fan at an event, a citizen to a government authority.
4. If you choose, your Identity Provider can filter your incoming data to rid it of undesirable elements as you specify

The PIN plan provides for a realistic path to actual implementation:

1. It will only take one Identity Provider to get things started. Users will have immediate benefits even before the network builds out. One start up has already contacted me in the last few days about possibly being a PIN Identity Provider.
2. The Network Guardian can be a very small scale operation in the earliest days.
3. As the idea spreads other Identity Providers will begin operation.
4. The patents pending on this will discourage other entrants from starting a whole other network based on similar principles.
5. This should spread virally, as the PIN becomes more valuable to the user as more users join and not being on the PIN after a while could brand you as a user that does not want to have a durable on line reputation


Thanks for reading! Please see other related posts at treytomeny.com and leave a comment or email me at treyattomenydotus. I can't figure out how to keep the main post on top here and add others below so if you know the working of Blogger, I'd appreciate that.