[Dave Birch] One reason for increased interest in identity management is the increasing interest that regulators are taking in the systems used to control information access. Yet there’s a common theme throughout many of the posts I read about identity infrastructure. No-one is really sure what identity (or management) is, they buy products hoping to solve problems that they patently weren’t designed for and then get disappointed when they don’t work. I don’t think it’s unduly cynical to suggest that some regulators may find themselves in this position, because they are too easily seduced by the promise of identity management technology: whatever the problems (ie, children, dogs or foreigners, to use current U.K. examples) the solution appears to be to build a register of them. Once they are identified, the problems will be under control.

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We have to be careful with this line of thinking. The combination of regulators, identity technology and a rather old-fashioned view of what identity actually is will probably not solve them problem. If it’s not thought out properly then we could end up with the same kind of nonsense as is going on in Japan. Starting next year, Japanese smokers will not be able to buy cigarettes from any of the country’s 570,000 fag (in the English sense of the word) machines machines unless they have an “ID card” called a tapso (made up from the words “tobacco”, “access” and “passport”). The tapso, which will also be yet another e-purse in an already busy marketplace, will be provided free of charge by the Tobacco Institute of Japan after smokers send identification papers attesting to their age. Hilariously (I imagine the system has been designed by management consultants), the smoker’s picture will be on the card but the fag machines will not be able to read it and there’s no other authentication: hence I predict an immediate and vigorous market in tapso, as non-smokers register to get the cards and then sell them to schoolchildren. The Tobacco Institute has spent 90 billion yen ($780 million) on the machines and says it “hopes the new system will prevent minors from smoking”. Good luck.

There’s something almost British about this story. It creates a superficial sense of doing something, yet won’t actually stop children from buying cigarettes. Giving people a card is seen as a positive thing to do, but is actually a waste of money in a country with countless e-purse schemes already and more than 30 million contactless phones in circulaton. It’s the mobile operators who know whether you’re old enough to buy cigarettes or not (and they know where you are when you’re buying them) and PINs aside their are already handsets with biometric authentication.

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]

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