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Who do you think you are?

A week at CFP draws to a close

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Computers, Freedom and Privacy At the beginning of the last day of the ACM conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy I thought I knew who I was. Now, after a couple of panels on identity management, I'm less sure.

Web 2.0 (rounded corners and all) brings a new twist to an old problem: more IDs, more passwords, more economic transactions, and many more people storing all that data.

One of today's more interesting, but technically complex presentations reviewed the salient features of the logical response: identity management systems. This was a rerun by Ralf Bendrath and Udo Neitzel of the presentation they gave at last December's Chaos Communication Congress.

When they start talking about "identity providers" it's deja vu: in the crypto wars "trusted third parties" were proposed to prevent widespread anonymity backed by widespread strong cryptography. Because, as Bendrath noted, "governments hate anonymity".

That simple fact – and in the UK and EU generally anonymity has long been on the list of things the various governments would love to do away with – is why "identity providers" are a problem. No matter how good their intentions are now, they could easily become a central point of tracking, especially, as Caspar Bowden pointed out, in today's era of burgeoning data retention. Today, ISPs' logs; tomorrow...well, we all remember anon.penet.fi.

If you don't, you must be a member of that younger generation some of this year's panelists have decried for valuing their privacy so little that they put their pictures and many details about their lives on Facebook and/or MySpace. This from the generation who did the same kind of thing (sans pictures) on Usenet. It is entirely possible to choose to live your life in public and yet value your privacy, and it's natural for older generations to get nervous watching younger ones taking risks. To know what they think they're doing, we'll have to ask them.

But fear – even on another's behalf in generation gap 2.0 – is an instinctive reaction, not a rational one, as Bruce Schneier explained in a keynote that delved into the inner psychological workings of the various parts of the brain.

More than that, travel data privacy expert Edward Hasbrouck noted, when you tell someone something's risky what they really assess internally is whether it frightens them. Hence the poor assessment of risk by so many people. Does the thought that your identity provider could track you through the comments you make on blogs everywhere firghten you? No?

Does it frighten you when that same identity provider's services are adopted by your bank, your government, and your health service? No?

Does it frighten you when the report from all that tracking is sent to your parents, your employer, your spouse, your children? Hey, that wasn't me. Code 2.0, Web 2.0, Identity 2.0, Privacy 2.0? CFP 18.0: April 2008, New Haven, CT. Chair: Eddan Katz. Party and out.®

You can catch up with Wendy here, where she lives (semi) publicly, while valuing her privacy.

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