How do we say who we are?

And what does that mean?

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by Mike Meyer

At some point very soon we are going to change our minds and surprise the hell out of ourselves. Or some people will and some people won’t and then there will be a new and widening rift between parts of our population who have lost contact with each other.

We are still working to decide what to do about the fact that there is a minority in America that actually supported someone like Donald Trump and still go to his rallies to hear him babble and lie. What is it with that?

What does this mean and what can we do about it? Sorry, but I don’t have an answer right now but I can and will make it worse. We are going to have to decide very soon what it means for people to know us, how they know us, and how much they know about us. And whether we have the right to be unknown and how that will cause problems that we may not be willing to accept.

These questions are already being dealt with in a backhand manner by people all over the planet. How people handle this is very much tied to culture and, secondarily, to nationality. These differences are starting to surprise people but they really haven’t yet understood the true size of this question.

Yes, this is another big paradigmatic change. That’s what makes it so inevitable and also so confusing. With these kinds of fundamental cultural changes the way we live, think, and define our societies change drastically. This is what causes great uncross-able rifts in communication that break societies and nation states apart.

Being old enough to remember the last sixty years, there was a famous film that, I believe, made Paul Newman’s acting career, called Cool Hand Luke. If you have no idea who Paul Newman was, other than a type of salad dressing, this is not as relevant as I would like so I will explain it.

The story was about a southern prison and man, maybe, wrongfully imprisoned and sent to a chain gang camp. The man, Cool Hand Luke, was one of those classic American characters who just refused to go along with things if he thought they were wrong. He came to a bad end but everyone felt wronged by that end.

One of the main lines in the film was by the prison warden who had a theory about why people had problems in prison. When Cool Hand got into trouble the warden would announce that, “this was a failure to communicate”. The main theme of the film could be described as what do you mean communicate? And who defines communication?

Who are you, anyway?

Our issue now is what does it mean to be you? And how do I know who you are? How do you know who I am?

We don’t usually think about this without some cause but what do we know about people we meet? We learn their name and maybe who they work for. We make a guess about their age and some estimate of their status in our society but those, we know, may be very wrong. All we really know is the name they give us. Later we may learn that they are also known by different name. That immediately puts our knowledge and assumptions at risk.

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Assuring someone of your identity, depending on your nationality, may be as simple as handing them your national ID or your passport if you are traveling. In America things are more complex and this is a major problem that is on a collision course with the 21st century.

The American response to that question may well be, who the hell wants to know? And it’s none of your damn business anyway.

In reality things are already well past that, even in America, because in a fully networked world there are many times when we need to prove who we are by creating an account with a password, and increasingly, another ‘factor’ of identification such a cell number that can be called or a fingerprint that is on file and can be checked.

In the exciting early days of the web everyone used an internet ‘handle’ or alias. You make up a name and created an account with a password and that’s who you were for that virtual place. We still have usernames for accounts but increasingly that ‘alias’ must be backed up by proof of your legal name and age. You need to be legally known to have an account.

Things are moving too quickly for many people, Americans particularly, as newer laptops and even tablets will identify you by facial recognition. Combinations of biometric information, fingerprints, facial recognition, or retinal scans are used for access to your work or rooms and systems that you work with. These are called Multiple Factor Authentication and anonymous users are rapidly disappearing.

The question of how that information about you is used or shared by the organizations that you have given it is a major privacy issue. Perhaps not surprisingly with the accelerating American political collapse this has not been worked out well at all. In some cases states have done this but nationally there is only a patchwork of laws that may be contradictory. America is notably behind in dealing with these issues and these relate to other questions of online identity that are being dealt with badly. More on those issues in a minute.

The European Union privacy law (General Data Protection Regulation) begins to address this directly by defining what can be done with personal information without express, individual permission, or not done at all. But this requires a dynamic balance between the need to identify a person and their information in order to protect it as theirs while being able to ensure that someone else is not accessing your bank account or committing crimes with your identity.

How this started

This brings us to the importance of quickly and easily identifying someone in our world. What rights do you have? What rights don’t you have? What data belongs to you and what belongs to someone else. That requires confirmed knowledge of who you are. Being anonymous is already almost impossible with GPS tracking and facial recognition.

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Identifying people in the IT world is known as AIM or Access Information Management. In that world this means how easy is it for you to move from information source to information source based on authentication information that you entered once several hours ago. Most people are familiar with the term Single Sign On as that is what it means. If you have to log in again every time you change files you will be a very unhappy person. Here convenience is key (literally).

That convenience is balanced against the need to maintain the security of the information that you have the right to see and use. That includes, of course, personal information on other people.

If it is your personal information including your age, health records, and bank account you want maximum security and protection. If you are a worker who deals with hundreds of personal information accounts everyday you want convenience. So where are we going with this?

The great voter scam

It’s time to deal with the mess that this has already created in America that has exacerbated a huge mess inherent in the confused history of the country. The problem is that America does not have a citizen ID. Actually that is not true as everyone has a Social Security numbers and that is national ID. Except that it is not admitted to be a national ID and can’t be used that way by anyone but the US government.

The US military back in the late 1960s began using the social security number as the military ID number. That worked very well and led to other state and federal departments using the Social Security number as a functioning ID cross linking each person with their federal information. Colleges and universities also came to use the Social Security number as an ID but then it was all forced to stop and we had to pretend that there was no national ID.

After blocking the existing single, federal ID number that everyone had it became very difficult to identify people. The second most common, but not universal, government document that people had was a drivers license. That also had used the Social Security number but states had to create new numbers to replace that just as it was getting complicated to do things like confirm ID for voters in elections or confirm citizenship when starting a job.

That obviously is a spectacular bit of stupidity because if you are going to demand that people have an ID proving they are citizens why not give them a citizen ID card to use for everything?

In America this became ever more complicated due to various political failures. The Republican Party became a smaller and smaller party due to the failure to change. That party is now primarily a racist and xenophobic party that demands proof of citizenship for everything. Since they stopped having policies except for racism, and few educated people support that while the greatest growth in population has been and will be from non-white people, their need has been to suppress voting by everyone but their small group of supporters. If you are shrinking and don’t want to change you need to block as many people who actively dislike you from voting as possible.

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My apologies to everyone who is not a US citizen because this makes little or no sense and stupidity compounds itself at every election. The Republican Party wants to reduce the number of voters in order to work on winning anywhere. They do NOT want a national ID because then everyone would have a means of proving their citizenship and could not be arbitrarily removed from voting rolls unless they produced a birth certificate proving they are citizens.

By not having a federal citizen ID it is possible for states under the control of the Republican Party remove people from voter lists by claiming they haven’t voted or other arbitrary reasons then forcing these people, who may not have a drivers license, to produce birth certificates that they may not have or may not exist if the person is very old.

A particularly egregious example of this is currently being used in Georgia to attempt to prevent Republican loss of an election due to their massive unpopularity. The Republican operatives removed thousands from voting lists by a law that required all official documents to list an individuals information exactly the same. If the persons name was shown with or without a middle initial on any government document they were removed. This could then be used to claim that any identifying document they presented to vote was not “legitimate”.

A national ID would eliminate this stuff. So, no national ID.

Another hot strategy on the part of the Republican Party is to claim that there are millions of people in the country who are not citizens but have fake voter registrations. The problem is that there has never been any serious incidents of fake polling information or non-citizens voting. But this is used a justification to delete voters from the records before each election and then force people who’s record was deleted to show an official ID proving again that they are citizen without an official federal ID. Most people then give up and don’t vote.

This is not the point of what I am talking about but it is impossible to explain the disaster of not having a federal ID in America that demands it, selectively, but refuses to give people such a thing.

The real point

The transformation of human society into a virtual world based on a digital presence that requires constant authentication requires a clear, universal, personal identification system for everyone in order to do anything. America is, in effect, tearing itself apart on this.

In order to deal with having a verified and very difficult to fake identity online now requires multiple authentication factors as mentioned above. The minimum now is “two factor authentication”. A biometric component, a password as a legacy tool for old systems, or an electronic system that can communicate codes such as a phone or tablet or, now a watch.

But the basis for official identification and authentication has already become direct recognition by intelligent systems. This is being done by every organization and ecommerce company who needs absolutely reliable customer identification.

In India and China these things are being implemented rapidly. In China criminals are identified by automated facial recognition systems that recognize millions of faced per day. China has made numerous arrests of people wanted for questioning based on these systems.

This has nothing to do with the nature of the crimes or why they are wanted. Here the issue is that identification is now possible continuously in public places. How that identification is used is the largest political question on the planet now. Donald Trump is a fart in a hurricane compared to this issue.

The end of the password

At this point there needs to be an official physical ID provided that incorporates all usable biometric markers for each person. It could be a card or passport incorporating biometrics for instant verification. This is an important public service that we can no longer do without.

Please realize that the personal identification card is a convenience for people and is not required. As noted above facial recognition doesn’t require you to show anything. Very high speed massive data systems can match multiple characteristics for probably identification and this is automatically added to your individual record. Body type, walk, voice, or other biometric indicators can be captured and use to give a strong potential ID even with a full hoody.

Passwords were a bad idea to begin with. With continuous biometric identification by face recognition, touch or voice, we no longer need to worry about anything including passwords. You will be able to forget all of your passwords using your dog’s name or, the perennial favorite, PASSWORD or its sophisticated cousin P@ssw0rd.

Is that so bad? Ok, I’m sure I will hear howls of outrage at the suggestion but no good reason not to do it.

The change

The real issue we face is profile information that is already being captured, stored, and sold to interested parties tied to your ID. This is the 21st century Credit Report.

India is implementing the full digital ID and all linked data now for its entire population. Their are questions about how secure the system is and how it will be used but it will be implemented and, at some point, all data will be tied to that system for every Indian citizen.

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China, even more infamously, is using the full ID system to capture social rankings for all citizens. Your social score will affect your borrowing, employment, facilities use and other things. If you make a reservation for dinner and fail to show up or inform them it will be on your record. And there will be penalties.

The Chinese system is freaking people out, primarily in America, but not the Chinese who get it. The people of India are concerned by parts of this, its reliability, and possible areas for corruption but that is about all as I understand it. Current surveys indicate that a large majority of Chinese are very concerned about unethical behavior including inappropriate behavior. They have no problem with the social scoring system as well as the public identification of people.

Things are changing so fast that some governments, such as America’s are starting to fail because they have critically hobbled themselves so they could screw over their citizens. But, wait, isn’t this bad? Isn’t it good? Maybe sometimes it is bad and sometimes it is good depending on how it is used?

The point right now

People everywhere need to understand that we are all not only electronically identified but with a massive record of information growing by the hour. There is no way to hide short of becoming a hermit in a remote, uninhabited region and even that will leave a great deal of ID connected information in the systems including when you dropped out of sight.

This is similar to the old story of the hippie who wanted to leave the developed world behind. He spent months making his way to India and then to Tibet. He made it to the top of a high mountain pass, saw a hut at the top, walked in only to see a large Mountain Dew Sold Here sign at the back. He said “Screw it” turned around and went home.

We need to say “Screw it” and demand national and international rules for personal information that gives each of us a digital ID with each of us having access to the information that we create and that will be used to define us from now on.

The EU GDPR is starting to do that. China has it, for good or ill, and we will, too. India is implementing it now. We will not be able to live without it so we had better make sure we can at least have some kind of control over all our information. It is, after all, ours. And then we could sell it too.

Yes, our information is our value. It is the new definition of value. The largest corporations now have made billions on our information. We need to get royalties.

But, for America, we can eliminate the disaster that is being perpetrated on the nation by totally unscrupulous politicians playing games with people’s rights over the imaginary inability to know who they are. In reality they are the people that will vote those very scum bags out of office if they are allowed to vote.

We can fix that with automatic voter registration and fully biometric based national ID.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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