Nobody owns a name!

On the Internet a name is just a handle, in no context is it a proof of identity.

Virtually on a daily basis I get abuse complaints from disgruntled people complaining that someone on Usenet is using their name. Usually I try to explain to them that it’s a big world we live in, with lots of people and it’s entirely feasible that someone else is called John Smith.

My example above is a little tongue in cheek because I don’t really get many complaints that are quite that simplistic. It’s much more common that the complainant is upset because someone else is deliberately forging their identity. The From header on a Usenet posting (and even an email) is a free form text field into which anyone can put any information they want. The Usenet old-hands realise this and either ignore forgeries or make an effort to digitally sign their postings. The newcomers however seem to think it’s the responsibility of the service administrator to protect their identity. A request that to any administrator is as frustrating as it is ridiculous.

So what’s the point of my rabbiting on here? Well I’m just trying to make the point that a person’s identity is their own and it’s up to them to protect and manage it. Asking someone else, (like a Usenet admin) to do it is effectively transferring ownership of that identity to them. It’s like lending out your passport or getting someone else to sign the back of your credit card. Some things can only be done by the individual and that’s just how it should be.

So what is a digital identity? Don’t ask me, the experts can’t even agree but one thing’s for sure, it’s going to become a massive topic in the next few years as people require a means to uniquely identify themselves. To further complicate things, a digital identity should preserve an individuals right to anonymity and grant them complete granularity in which elements of their identity they choose to divulge and to whom. They should also be able to divulge elements of their identity to multiple 3rd parties without any of those parties being able to link their perspective of an identity to that granted to any other party. It sounds complicated, (and it is) but in our day to day lives, we do it all the time.

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