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Innovation

The cloud can solve our identity problems

Any ID -- a passport, a driver's license -- is now a client device in a larger identity system. What matters isn't what is on the paper the cop sees, it's what's in the database they access.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

A few years ago I was pulled over for speeding.

It was up in Shelby, North Carolina. The Andrew Jackson Hwy. was widening east of town, I-85 was a few miles away, but the speed limit was still 35. I was going faster.

Worse I didn't have my license. Not a problem, the cop said. He went back to his car, punched some buttons, and then came back with some bad news. My license had been pulled because of some problems with my Social Security records.

I got all that straightened out in time. I found my license, traveled back to Shelby, pled guilty to the speeding and paid the fine. (He let me go, in part, because my dear wife was in the passenger seat and her license checked out.)

The cop did me a favor. Homeland Security had purged me because the paper Social Security record my mom filled out for me when I was a kid didn't check the box showing I was born in America (they used different color papers for the native born, she explained testily).

The point here is that servers already do a lot of our identity work for us, and any cop with a laptop in their car (or beat cop with an iPhone) can access a lot of data, quickly, on anyone they stop, for any reason.

Given all that, Christopher Dickey's idea that we all carry ID cards -- the whole idea of Arizona's "papers please" law -- starts to sound silly.

Any ID -- a passport, a driver's license -- is now a client device in a larger identity system. What matters isn't what is on the paper the cop sees, it's what's in the database they access.

There are many such systems, maintaining data on all of us. Even the most legitimate, God-fearing, native-born American probably has a driver's license. Many have passports.

In addition to numbers, biometric data is collected when we get these documents. Fingerprints may be taken for a driver's license. Photographs are required.

So why are we fussing over "your papers?" Why is anyone pretending we have "privacy" from our government, and why is government pretending that the client device you hand over at a traffic stop defines who you are?

It didn't for me, up in Shelby. It won't for you, next time you run a stop sign or have an accident.

The real discussion should be over what data is required, inside the server or the cloud, to prove your identity beyond any reasonable doubt. Retinal scans? Fingerprints? A photograph? Your DNA profile?

We can collect it all, at any time, and law-and-order advocates encourage this (for other people). Once it's in the system, it's available to any law officer with a valid reason for accessing it.

It's time we admitted all this and ended the controversy. Your papers are in the cloud. Connect the cloud to your identity, within the cloud, and a lot of problems which now seem intractable go away.

Just set some rules in law for access, set up a regulatory process controlling those who have access, and we can all go on with our lives. (I found the barbecue at Bridge's made Shelby worth the return trip.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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