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Of Infocard: Who keeps an eye on the guardians?

Why not PGP keysigning?

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Nick Kew has raised an interesting point re: Mary Branscombe’s InfoCard piece.

It touches on “quis custodiet ipsos custodies” - who will keep an eye on the guardians? Do you have to have an unblemished reputation in order to manage identity and security? Probably not, in theory – but I bet you won’t get much buy-in from the general public (or, I hope, the press) if your past behaviour is dodgy.

So, some of the companies involved in dealing out identity/security have featured in anti-monopoly cases, have allegedly tricked people into changing their domain registration supplier by giving the impression they’re something they’re not and have failed in “due diligence” on identity generally (in one case, by giving a chancer a Bill Gates ID.

Also, the commercial concept of charging different rates for different “qualities” of identity (the cheapest needing little more than headed notepaper as “proof” of ID) seems to me to be a real gift for fraudsters – and Microsoft’s “do you want to trust all content from this provider” in IE seems fundamentally silly too (the only sensible answer is “sometimes”; not an option).

Personally, I see a need for “trusted third parties” in this space – regulated professionals similar to solicitors and “commissioners for oaths”, who can guarantee that a public key means what you think it does. But I have to admit that Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) trust seems to work well enough, although I’m not sure it will ever suit the technophobe masses.

Anyway, here’s what Nick says, and I obviously have some sympathy with it (although, in the context of the piece commented on, it raises issues rather outside the scope of what Mary was asked for: a developer’s heads-up on InfoCard technology):

“We have an established web-of-trust through PGP keysigning, that is (for end users) altogether preferable to certificate authorities. Why do initiatives like InfoCard not use this, at least as an option?

“Verisign's monopoly position seems to me altogether more damaging than Microsoft's, and I find it deeply depressing that they've been allowed to eliminate so much of the competition (e.g. buying Thawte - the other big name in the identity business) without regulatory scrutiny. And of course they are successor to Network Solutions, the worst monopoly nightmare I've ever had the misfortune to deal with in any 'net business.

“I have a great deal more trust in my colleagues whose PGP keys I've signed than I do in an industry dominated by companies with a very nasty track record.”

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