Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact
The top story on today's local tech-news wires relates to the IRD's efforts
to move more of their tax reporting and gathering activities online.
Pivotal to the success of such services is the ability to adequately
identify users who may wish to log on and file a return, query their
status or hand over their 30 pieces of silver.
In fact, much of the entire e-government initiative will rely heavily
on the ability to verifiably establish the identity of a Net user -- so
how will this be done?
To date, the most common method of proving a person's identity has been
to require the use of a logon name and password. Indeed, this simple
technique seems to be more than secure enough for online banking systems
so why won't it work for the IRD and other government agencies?
Well maybe it will, but maybe it won't.
Perhaps the government will, once again, try to force the users of its services
to obtain digital certificates in order to authenticate their identity -- but
this is expensive and comes with a raft of other problems so I don't know if that
will fly either.
Hey, maybe they could simply require all Kiwis to sign up for a secure Microsoft
Passport account and use that (oh dear -- I seem to have fallen over with
laughter and I can't get up).
However, much as I hate to admit it, maybe it's time for Netizens to carry
identity cards while online.
Even though the Net ahs become a lifeline of free speech for numerous
oppressed peoples in countries where speaking out against the ruling
power can significantly shorten your life expectancy, one still has to has
whether the price of this anonymity is now too high.
Yes, although such an idea cuts right to the heart of the culture of
anonymity and uncensored freedom of speech on which the Net has been built,
we have to acknowledge that the Net in 2002 is a whole lot different to
the way it was even in 1997.
If, in order to surf the Net, we had to obtain a "license" or "certificate"
that would provide immutable evidence of our identity then we could deal
a very significant blow to many of the worst aspects of online crime.
Think about it -- things such as credit-card fraud, virus/trojan launches,
kiddie-porn trading, spamming, etc, etc, -- all rely heavily on the fact
that it's relatively easy to mask your true identify when online. And,
as we all know, if victims or the authorities don't know who you are,
it's a lot harder to track you down and put you out of your dastardly business.
Isn't it somewhat anomalous that we can't drive a car, own a gun or even
travel to Australia without proof of who we are -- yet we are allowed to use
a technology that can facilitate the undertaking of significant crimes half a
world away with almost total anonymity?
Here's a question for Aardvark's readers:
Would you accept some form of mandatory online ID system if it meant
an end to spam, kiddie-porn, credit-card fraud, cracking, denial of service
attacks, viruses and cyberterrorism?
Or do you believe that these (and other nasties) are a justifiable price
to pay in order to preserve your right to online anonymity?
Have your say.
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