[Dave Birch] Let’s be clear: there is something interesting happening around virtual worlds.  I’m not entirely sure what it is, and nor is anyone else, but the primal soup of computer-mediated communications, social networking and immersive 3D graphics is brewing and something will evolve.  This has ramifications for the world of digital identity because, apart from anything else, it changes the way that we think about identity (and multiple identity).  It seems to me that virtual worlds are beginning part of mainstream thinking: my evidence for this is that the moral panic that accompanies all new technologies that enter the mainstream is now under way.

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The panic is, of course, that terrorists will follow everyone else into virtual worlds, such as Second Life, where worried counterterrorism experts tell us that the utopian goals can be perverted and “many of the overwhelmingly positive features of Second Life can be adapted for negative Real Life means”.  The principal concern seems to be that the age range of virtual world “players” is similar to the target age range for terrorist recruiters.

The fear at the heart of this is clearly that people can interact anonymously, so that a youngster befriended by a 50th-level druid in World of Warcraft may not realise that the nature-loving sage is actually a front for a terrorist organisation and that one trust has been gained, the real agenda will unfold.

The solution seems obvious to me.  People should have to have a passport to travel across virtual world borders just as they are supposed to do in the real world.  This passport, in the form of a digital certificate issued by the Home Office, should attest to your age (ie, under 18, over 21 or whatever) and nationality but nothing else.  Nothing else is required for entry to the virtual world.  If, however, it should subsequently transpire that you are mining virtual gold in a virtual cave in Lineage II (which has, by the way, been played by 30 million people in South Korea) but then sending it by delivery elf to Osama bin Laden (well, his avatar anyway) then the Home Office will know who you actually are, even if the Lineage II avatars do not.  I will mention this to the Identity & Passport Service (IPS) next time I pop in — although they may have their hands full at the moment with the news that they issued about 10,000 dodgy passports last year and that they issued nine of them to a single terrorist (although, to be fair, seven of them were in his real name).

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. The second, the way policy is devised, is a game many countries now play: policy laundering. The game goes something like this. The US wants, say, biometrics in passports, and the UK likes the idea, toosecond passports

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