Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Digital Identity Cards

The UK is currently running through a trial roll out of the national identity card, yet many remain opposed to its introduction. As we move further into the information age I believe the advantages of authenticated identity far outweigh the disadvantages.

In practical terms an identity card, made from electronic paper with a few gigabytes of storage and some secure processing facilities could have many applications:
  • One card for all purposes.
  • Identifying us online.
  • Certificate chains allowing you to grant access to family or colleagues to known resources: cars, offices, databases, doors etc.
  • On request displaying an image of the owner for trivial identification in stores.
  • Displaying retailer logos and advertising.
  • Displaying account balance or status.
  • In tracking altruistic currency...
First of all, let us not deceive ourselves; we already have many digital identities in various forms: Debit and credit cards, passports, national insurance cards, two recent bills, an email address; the list goes on. In this light the battle over any perceived loss of freedom has already been lost, a national identity card would at least reduce the bureaucracy involved.

The digital information age has brought with it the progressive erosion of security within the offices of government, financial institutions, educational facilities and corporations. An individual with a CDROM, a USB data-key, a mobile phone, an email account or simply a web browser may move data into or out of areas which we have historically considered within the realm of her majesty's secret service.

With increasing frequency we see the most senior politicians publish articles in the electronic versions of daily newspapers, only to be greeted by an onslaught of masked jeering and heckling. It is my belief that when our face is hidden a negative trait of animal psychology comes to the fore, an innate aspect of the hunter: I can see my prey, but my prey cannot see me. In a political context this leads us toward the snide and underhand. This is clearly not a useful drive for a politician seeking to gain the will of the electorate through discussion. Ideally they would like to meet the eyes of their audience and win their hearts and minds. Is this same aspect of humanity scheming in the minds of those who stalk children via Internet chat rooms? Wouldn't you like to know who your children are talking to? Digital identities online could bring an end to the threat from darker aspects of the human psyche on the Internet.

What of the individual's freedoms? The dual between the monolithic political entities of the last century brought with it the legacy of the cold war which lead society to new levels of surveillance and new levels of anonymity, a state which is now being compounded by the arrival of the information age. The news papers inform us that secret black lists are being kept and circulated via email, that secret catalogues of fascists are being leaked. Information about you or me, compiled by the masked and circulated electronically amongst the anonymous. If you've been added to a list, wouldn't you like to know who by? Or who has read that list?

What of photographs taken covertly and circulated anonymously with no signature of ownership? Media circulated via the Internet could be prevented by the Internet's search engines unless signed with an individual's digital identity, whilst also enforcing artist acknowledgment; this is a solution many would welcome.

In time digital identity and mandatory digital signatures could bring to society a renewed trust in the communiqué we exchange, information will be regarded as false unless accompanied by the identity of the author, encouraging accountability.

Online discussion in the news papers or more contemporary discussion forums all suffer from abusive campaigning with multiple pseudonyms, giving the impression that there are many more in a faction than is actually the case. Anonymity has its uses, particularly when we are discussing the current limits of freedom itself. If online forums are to give a genuine impression of public opinion, the individual must be identified.

In the UK we are issued a national insurance number and card at the age of 16, for many our first digital acknowledgement by the governing bodies of the nation. We are already identified digitally by the state and its representatives, does bureaucracy really need to be faceless? Why shouldn't we be able to authenticate other people's identities at the very least for our safety online?

Perhaps the most compelling argument is: "How many more passwords do I need to remember?"

In the near future identifying people will be as simple as making contact with a metallic surface: immediate identification without your knowledge. I personally would prefer to live in a society that acknowledges this new sense of identity surveillance, rather than allow it to become another form of covert oppression.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


The information revolution has provided society with a plethora of new mediums, allowing anyone to reach everyone with their opinions and beliefs. In addition to these new ways to express views, new means of debate are emerging. As a result of this communication amongst the populace, individuals are being politicized; everyday challenging the opinions of others whilst defending their own.

Consequently the established political parties, in the past to some extent enjoying the privilege of being able to dictate social and economic policy are now becoming less representative of the opinions of the people. Concurrently and in order to balance this new shift, online news mediums, particularly the established newspapers are forming a bridge between the public and party members, in effect replacing grass roots canvassing perhaps without the tomatoes.

With this shift the newspaper is being redefined. In the past being part of the readership of a particular brand of newspaper identified the person culturally and politically, today's readership expect to be able to challenge from the moment of online publication, prior to arrival at a news stand, the opinions of the article's author, whether they be journalist, prime minister or reader. Thru open discussion the readership are empowered with the ability to redefine the cultural and political identity of the news brand.

Twitter, a recent invention which combines instant messaging with social networking is providing an innovative new source of news content. This is especially the case when combined with technologies like Monitter or Scribble Live, effectively empowering anyone with a mobile phone-camera to create a live text, image and audio feed to a website, as demonstrated during the recent G20 protests.

The question has been posed "Why use Twitter when you have e-mail?". Humans are much more imaginative given limited resources; it's as though the mind simply rationalizes: I have plenty, therefore there is nothing to worry about, relax; become prey. By limiting the number of characters in a tweet to 140, we're forced to be creative in what we tweet, whether poetry, image links, audio boos or you tube videos, the result a montage of multimedia; that 1990's buzz word that has quietly become ubiquitous. As with most forms of online social networking, the resulting chatter forms a layer of validation which I find has a positive affect on what Wole Soyinka refers to as the Quasi State and its communication channels.

Already it is quite possible to foresee a day when a news article is simply not news unless the reader may comment; we no longer wish to be lectured from the pulpit, we want fearless intelligent journalists and social commentators who come down and discuss amongst the readership. The addition of Twitter to the array of blogosphere lecterns is helping to create a hotbed of new journalistic talent, encouraging us all to police society ourselves.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Publishing, File Sharing & Revolution

A shift is occurring which we have all been made aware of by the frequent cries of injustice from several members of the music industry. With the rise of Internet file sharing existing publishing establishment revenues are being undermined, though this has now largely come to be accepted, with those companies concluding that they will subsist on the profit generated by their back catalog of work still under copyright. Digital distribution removes the third party publisher from the loop, allowing more profit to go to the artist, perhaps a result that the majority of those in music publishing are secretly happy about.

This same transition is beginning to occur in the sphere of book publishing. With the arrival of Amazon's Kindle e-Reader, Sony's e-Reader, again the artist will be given the opportunity to enjoy increased revenue and liberated from the leeching publishers. Whilst we will always have film production companies, completely digital distribution of video rental is in the offing in the UK and already available in the US, with television soon to follow.

Many artists complain of the threat to their income created by the ease of digital copying and the rise of peer to peer file sharing, I personally welcome the prospect of having a home free of the various boxes, cases and shelves required to store transient human art forms. There are many advantages to the publishing revolution, with the UK in particular being so resistant to change, the opportunity to turn over the existing publishing aristocracy is very welcome.

The ease of digital duplication is often sighted as a setback, but to who? After all what is wrong with a dynamic that brings wealth to those artists whose art inspires pathos or edifies in such ways as to make us want to give our money?

Whilst many are currently bemoaning the pseudo-politicisation of the celebosphere, the removal of the publisher from transient art forms brings to the fore the question: is this art worth paying for? In time, perhaps redefining who our celebrities are.

Would future generations of children be raised expecting never to have to pay for books, music and films? Surely teaching your children to pay for what they like is a constructive tenet? After all we ourselves expect to be paid for work in the career we choose, so this initial instruction in the determination of excellence can only be mutually beneficial.

If all else fails the Internet provides the artist with a way to maintain a relationship with their audience, providing incentives to purchasing. Ultimately then the artist will be brought back into direct communication with the audience, as it was before recorded music or the printed press.