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Comment On October 4, the Liberty Alliance announced the final version of its Identity Web Services Framework (ID-WSF). I have to admit, I have always struggled to get my head around ID-WSF, which Liberty defines as providing…

the framework for building interoperable identity services, permission based attribute sharing, identity service description and discovery and the associated security profiles

What is an identity service? What is permission based attribute sharing? What business problems does ID-WSF address?

The press release helps to some extent, although it is (unsurprisingly for a press release) pitched at a high level and it is difficult to extract the core essence of ID-WSF from the generic, jargon-rich descriptions of its role:

framework for building and managing privacy-respecting, secure and interoperable Web services and Service Oriented Architectures ...the industry’s first user-centric Web services protocol for managing a user's relationship network across social applications in a trusted, secure and privacy-respecting manner ... organizations can trust that open identity management solutions based on ID-WSF 2.0 will deliver real business value today and over the long-term.

In the past, Liberty has tended to rely on the publication of dry specifications. It has, to its credit, listened to its critics and has taken steps to make it easier to engage with the output of its work. One example is the use of diagrams to explain how the different specifications fit together. Whilst certainly an improvement on PDFs this diagram still didn't help me get to the bottom of ID-WSF. Another example is the publication of the Marketing Requirements Documents (MRD) which drive the development of the specifications. The MRD for ID-WSF certainly helped me out but it is not the sort of thing that is really going to answer my business problem question.

Where next then? At the end of the press release, I noticed reference to a webinar and so decided to invest an hour of time. Although it was focused at a technical audience and went into detailed descriptions of protocols, SOAP headers and the like it also included some scenarios which made things far more tangible (see here and here for the presentation and the webinar recording). Finally, I was getting somewhere.

An identity service is a service that provides access to some aspect of an individual's identity, such as their current location, a calendar entry showing what that individual is doing. Permissions-based attribute sharing means that access to aspects of an individual's identity are under the control of the individual so that, for example, a service provider can access an individual's current location if the individual allows them to.

ID-WSF is a set of services which enable identity services to be used, whilst ensuring that the individual is in control; that their privacy is ensured; and that the process is secure. So, ID-WSF includes a Discovery Service where identity services are registered so that service providers can find them e.g. to allow a service provider to find out how it can invoke a service which will provide an individual's location. It also provides an Interaction Service which enables the provider of an identity service to seek permission from an individual to release some identity information e.g. to allow a wallet service to request an individual's permission to release credit card data to an online shopping provider. One of the most interesting services provided by ID-WSF is the People Service. This provides individuals with the means to manage their social networks and share that information amongst services e.g. to enable an individual to allow a friend to access their secure photos without the friend needing to have an account at the photo site (you can think of it as identity federation between individuals). Suddenly, the scenarios were making things clearer.

At the end of the webinar, there was a brief discussion of the Liberty Identity Services Interface Specifications (ID-SIS). This is where it all came together. ID-SIS is a set of identity services for contact sharing, geo-location, presence and messaging together with attribute definitions—or in Liberty parlance profiles—for describing personal and employee demographic data. These services are readily understandable to most people: ID-WSF provides the underlying services and protocols which allows distributed service providers to use those services without compromising privacy and security.

ID-WSF and ID-SIS are initially going to appeal to providers of consumer services. However, more organisations are being turned inside out and so need to interact with partners, customers and citizens with the result that federated and user-centric identity models are becoming more important. I hope that the Liberty Alliance heeds the advice I provided at the end of the webinar and extends the good work it has already done in making it easier to engage with the fruit of its labours with the use of scenario-based examples of the specifications in action.

Copyright © 2006 Macehiter Ward-Dutton

This article was originally published at IT-Analysis.com.

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