You can say what you want about today’s all-in-one devices and applications, but they usually have enough attractive features to make most users happy. My universal inbox, for example, lets me receive all my voice messages, emails, instant message queries, and the two faxes a year I still get. The so-called “God Box” promises to give users access to telephone, video, and IP service providers. And yet, these multifunctional systems are merely a prelude to the next place where we’re going to see the all-in-one phenomenon become evident: personal identity.
Down the road, your personal identity will be tied to an all-in-one digital identity card that provides some combination of access to your driver’s license, passport, credit/debit card, checking account number, and medical history. And it’s the Internet that will be the glue between these various parts of your identity.
It’s pretty clear we’re heading toward a future where a single card will have all your information for health insurance, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and shopper’s clubs, to name a few. A personal card bound to you will become your mechanism for conducting every type of transaction imaginable -- how you pay bills, register your vehicle, and manage all your day-to-day stuff.
And don’t let the recent congressional debate over national ID cards and homeland security obscure the larger issue. Everybody, regardless of stature or wealth, has to be connected to some system or some network -- which in most sectors means the Internet.
For the past few years, technology companies, like Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Novell Inc. (Nasdaq: NOVL), have been moving in that direction by developing “InfoCard” technology to simplify and improve the safety of accessing and sharing personal information on the Internet. In fact, the personal identity card concept appears to be gaining momentum in the U.K. A recent poll by ICM Research says 54 percent of British respondents think a government proposal requiring citizens to apply for a personal identity card is a good or very good idea, while 42 per cent disagree.
Although the issue of identity protection may spark a debate in some circles, it shouldn’t be a problem for a neighbor of mine. Even though he’s in his early 40s, he still lives with his parents. He’s never had a credit card or filed an income tax return (OK, so maybe his problems go beyond the lack of a digital identity). He realizes he’s going to be in a big jam if he ever wants to buy a house and a lender starts trying to run his credit report.
My neighbor has circumvented this problem by always dealing in cash. But even with that, his risk goes up, since some cash transactions get reported when they hit a certain dollar threshold. More than a few alarms would get triggered at the state and federal level if he paid cash for a house.
But even down the road, I don’t think cash will be what it is today. In the last three weeks, I haven’t used cash for anything. Parking garage, convenience store, fast-food restaurant -- I paid for it all with a credit card. And now you don’t even have to sign for a bill less than $20.
While I expect retailers, insurance companies, and law enforcement to advocate a singular approach to identity, privacy experts will decry the trend. It not only makes it easier for the government to go snooping, but such a rich cache of personal data makes a tempting target for identity thieves. Security will have to be air-tight for this sort of future, not just with encryption, but with legal protections that can’t be circumvented by secret tribunals or fear-mongering politicians.
The expediency of Internet access in this all-in-one personal identity outlook is bound to expose many of the hazards we’ll face. To reduce potential risks of using an all-in-one card, access to its data or history needs to be rendered impossible without the live, physical presence of its owner. Maybe that means a fingerprint or voice recognition component. Such protections are essential to any sort of singular digital identity. Convenience without controls will never fly.
— Steve Stasiukonis, Vice President and founder of Secure Network Technologies Inc.