The Global Impact of Identity Management

John Clippinger, an Internet and society scholar, argues that user-centric identity management software can help national security and the global economy.

In A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity (PublicAffairs, April 2007), John Clippinger presents a historical and sociological case that our ability to form trusted relationships is critical to human evolutionary success.

Through his work as a senior fellow for Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Clippinger is one of the drivers behind Project Higgins, an initiative to develop user-centric identity management software. He spoke recently spoke to CSO about his work.

CSO: In your book you argue that identity management will revolve around end users rather than corporations. How will this affect security technology development?

John Clippinger: Security will play a key role. It will be appreciated by end users in order to build trust and facilitate commerce. [Technologies like] IBM Id Mixer could prove very potent. Security of exchange for federation and aggregation will become important.

What are the criteria that will affect whether society successfully transitions to user-centric identity?

Clippinger: Privacy and civil liberties will be critical. Instead of an übersolution and single identifier—a national ID card for all cases—there will be a need to recognize that the more open and distributed the identity system, the greater the prospect for trusted collaboration and exchange. Companies will need to push for economic and civil liberties.

How does your concept of user-centric identity management jibe with the increasing trend toward surveillance security?

Clippinger: There is a huge set of issues here that need to be worked out at the national policy level.

What could this trend mean for larger ­security concerns like terrorism?

Clippinger: If there is another significant attack, the reflex will be to clamp down. This will not create a more secure system nor be an effective deterrent. But, politics will prevail.

You write that 2000 to 2025 is a tipping point during which we will either peacefully converge or devolve into chaos. What’s your current prediction?

Clippinger: It is a race. I am impressed that corporations such as Cisco, GE, Royal Dutch Shell, Fidelity and others are recognizing the importance of new corporate structures and the triple bottom line (profit, environment, social). But the environmental and security issues are more rapidly deteriorating than I thought. Technological change could become destabilizing. On a global basis we will need to get a lot smarter very soon.

This story, "The Global Impact of Identity Management " was originally published by CSO.

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