Back in the late 90's Utah proposed putting the driver's license on a smart card. I thought this would be a great place to store state-issued digital keys tied to the identity on the driver's license. The idea was met with considerable resistance by what some have called the "black helicopter crowd." Utah, like many western states, On the 'Net, creating nyms is very cheap. has more than the usual number of free-range libertarians. Smartcards for driver licenses died a slow, ugly death over the course of a legislative session.
Now, with nary a whimper from anyone, the Federal government is set to do the same thing on a national scale with the Real ID Act. Some goals of the act are laudable, like setting some basic standards for how a driver's license is issued, what data is included, and how the data on it is verified. If we're going to use driver's licenses as identity credentials in other identity contexts, then we ought to know there's some consistency.
We shouldn't expect to much, however. As James Lewis, senior fellow and director of technology and public policy for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C. says,
100 countries currently use a national ID card and that this hasn't been a deterrent to identity theft in those nations. Panelists also pointed out that Europe has tougher laws restricting the use of data brokering.
Meanwhile, a story about Skype notes that it makes wiretapping telephone conversations very difficult. There are two issues: first, Skype encrypts the content of calls. Second, your Skype ID isn't necessarily linked to anything else, making it next to impossible for the government, or anyone else, to target calls by specific individuals. The identity problem is the larger of the two:
[Counterpane CTO Bruce] Schneier believes that eavesdropping on the content of calls is not as important to the NSA as tracking the calls, which is still possible with Skype. For instance, if a particular account were associated with a terrorist or criminal, it would be possible to identify his conversation partners.
"What you and I are saying is much less important than the fact that you and I are talking," Schneier says. "Against traffic analysis, encryption is irrelevant."
Reading the article, I couldn't help but think back to the Clipper Chip debates of the early 90's. Clipper Chip proponents were trying desperately to solve the first problem without any idea that the second problem would even exist. On the 'Net, creating nyms is very cheap. Consequently, all of us do it at the drop of a hat.
In meatspace, that's not true--hence the Real ID Act. If I change my meatspace identity, I have to be willing to give up my home, my bank account, my cars, and most of my other property. Even giving up my most cherished identity on the Web, windley.com, wouldn't cost me anything close to that. Until virtual property becomes as valuable as real property, creating nyms will be a common occurrence on the Web--making the law and order crowd wince and the libertarians smile.