Liberty Alliance releases ID spec guidelines

The European Commission has given a green light to the identity-standards consortium's efforts to help companies using its services stay legal

The Liberty Alliance, a consortium that aims to develop and promote an open standard for federated network identities, launched guidelines on Wednesday to help users of Liberty-enabled identity management systems keep within the European law.

The guidelines relate to the EU data protection and electronic communications privacy directives, and follow a white paper recently published by the Liberty Alliance on Japan’s Personal Information Protection Act.

The EU document is called Circles of Trust: The Implications of EU Data Protection and Privacy Law for Establishing a Legal framework for Identity Federation. Circles of trust is one of the central concepts behind Liberty Alliance, which was formed in 2001 to create specifications to allow people to sign on to multiple networks by entering user information -- such as name and password -- once. Such federated security technologies have become more important as companies seek to improve the security and privacy of online networks.

Bjorn Wigforss, vice-president of Liberty Alliance and senior marketing manager at Nokia Technology Platforms, claims that complying with the data-protection and privacy laws around the world is a challenge and not a barrier to the goals of identity federation: "The challenge is to adhere to the legislation. The challenge of deployment is smaller if you have a technological specification that adheres to those laws," said Wigforss.

Securing users' identities across many IT systems is seen as a vital step towards better growth in e-commerce. But initial, single-party efforts such as Microsoft Passport encountered setbacks with privacy laws. In 2003 Microsoft was asked by the European Commission’s Article 29 working party to alter the way Passport handled personal details. Passport received a further blow over Christmas last year when eBay stopped supporting the technology, saying not enough people were using it.

By contrast, according to Wigforss, the new Liberty Alliance guidelines which were drawn up in collaboration with Article 29 have received the green light from the EC.

Since 2001, membership of the Liberty Alliance has been steadily growing. In October last year IBM joined existing members including Sun Microsystems, AOL, Ericsson, France Telecom, Intel, Novell, Oracle, and Nokia.

Circles of Trust can be downloaded from the Alliance's Web site.

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