[Privsec] Fwd: identity - an IG-related issue that crosses boundaries

Ralf Bendrath bendrath at zedat.fu-berlin.de
Tue Mar 21 17:14:35 GMT 2006

Hi all,

there is a thread on the internet governance caucus' list that touches on 
things we work on here - identity, privacy, anonymity and control, the 
underlying social contract, and the way it is embedded in technology.

Garth has a more communitarian perspective than I do (similar in e.g. 
Amitai Etzioni's book on "The Limits of Privacy"; my perspective is more 
liberal, along the lines of Beate Rössler's writings on privacy and 
autonomy, e.g. in "Privacies: Philosophical Evaluations", fully developed 
in her German book "Der Wert des Privaten"), but the discussion is very 
much needed anyway. I encourage everyone to engage in it on the IG Caucus 
list. I will also invite Garth to this group.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [governance] identity - an IG-related issue that crosses 
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2006 08:38:44 -0800
From: Garth Graham <garth.graham at telus.net>
To: governance <governance at lists.cpsr.org>
References: <71A50A99-3791-454D-9561-3D0C96E7D21E at telus.net> 
<4412BB76.3020402 at zedat.fu-berlin.de>

Ralf Bendrath wrote (his full posting is included at the end):
>> There is a great deal of work currently being done on
>> "Privacy and Identity Management" (PIM) infrastructures, but largely
>> without public participation...

... and yet political support of "user-centric identity" is likely to
be of critical importance.  So how to make that "work" open to public
participation is a very good question.  When (or maybe where?) will
those whose identity is grounded in "internet Culture" start to speak
more directly to the positive qualities of an Information Society
that they know from experience to improve daily life?  And how will
those whose identity is not grounded in Internet Culture hear what
they say?  The necessary conversations are going to be about
accepting where we are going, not defending where we have been.

The necessary public conversations are also going to be about values,
more than they are about technologies.  The "protocol" in Internet
Protocol can usefully be thought of as encoding a particular kind of
social contract.  As the code that expresses the Internet's functions
evolves, it is important that its design assumptions continue to take
the implications of that contract into account.  The informing that
occurs will only be "authentic" to the degree that the encoding of
identity ensures the teller of my story is myself.

It seems to me that individual autonomy (self determination), rather
than anonymity or privacy, is the key driving factor governing social
relationship in an Information society.  Having lived and worked more
in small towns (the "community level") than in urban areas, I am well
aware that privacy is an illusion, and that gossip is really the
primary vehicle of control in closed social networks.  I don't refer
to small towns in the sense of a paradise lost.  It's just an
explanation of the things that I see and the way that I see them.
In the urbanized world we are all busy creating, the easiest primary
vehicle of social control is likely be fear.  By defining the way in
which relation occurs as "open," the Internet opposes rule by fear.
It does this, in large part, by supporting the way in which networks
re-define the determinants of identity.

I suspect that the expectation of privacy as a right is a holdover
from the Industrial Age.  It served as a means of socialization to
isolate or atomize individuals, thus rendered them more easily
aggregated or mobilized as indistinguishable units of production.  We
can be educated to accept the fairness of a social contract  that
appropriates our public selves for the public good while, at the same
time, leaving our private  selves to their own devises.

In an Information Society, the social structures are inherently
relational (and the Internet Protocol mirrors that capacity to
connect), and not involved in the separation of individuals as
parts.   In order to sustain the self-organization of networks, the
Internet enhances the autonomy of the individual to relate to other
individuals without reference to authority or to structures that
purport to legitimize or "represent" their choices.  The growth and
evolution of Internet use continues because more people like the
autonomy it gives them than do not.

If we began asking our national governments what they are doing to
defend Internet Protocol from the attacks of telecommunications
corporations,what would they say?   WSIS itself proves governments
are now alert to, and threatened by, the changes in patterns of
governance that are made real by relational networks based on peer-to-
peer, end-to-end and edge-to-edge.  It seems likely to me that nation
states will be slow to advocate strongly for what is after all a
phase change in the nature of control that has radical consequences
for current assumptions about the nature of governance.

It therefore seems to me that the forums appropriate for
participation in dialogue about the implications and benefits of this
change are neither international, nor national, nor even "multi-
stakeholder" (in the sense of outsourcing the public good to "non-
governmental" agencies).  If an Information society is a network of
networks, and a nation within it is a network of networks, then the
appropriate forums are going to be local.  It is becoming clear that
the necessary defense of Internet Protocol is the responsibilty of
local governments.   I have begun asking local governments what they
are doing to defend Internet Protocol and, to my surprise, I am
finding some that understand the question.

Public policy needs to focus much more than it does on the
implications of living in a political economy of networks.  Rather
than get hung up on dichotomies of urban versus rural, or centralized
versus decentralized, public policy could then sustain communities of
practice that are free to distribute functions through self-
organization, and to scale according to the situations and settings
they experience.  Left alone to be "governed" by their own choices,
local networked economies can and will develop effectively.  And the
non-zero sum of their efforts will cause a "nation as a network of
networks" to emerge, transformed in a way that works better than it
does now.

It's a question of who gets to tell my story.   I would trust that
the structures of an Information society were fair if it was clear in
right, and in law and in code that I was the owner of all of the
forms for the digital expression of myself.   As the Internet
evolves, the concept of identity online is also evolving and existing
identity systems are faltering. Support is needed both for new
systems of digital identity that center identity around the user and
for open public participation in their design and application.

Yes, my best guess is that the most effective dialogues on the
Internet Protocol's implications for identity will be local.  But I
can't think of a way to avoid a "world" level discussion that
wouldn't create more problems than it solves.  Therefore, and acting
in sympathy with Milton Mueller's and Bertrand de La Chapelle's
framework for proposing themes, I have also prepared a submission to
the governance list under the subject heading, "Proposed theme: user
centric digital identity."

Garth Graham
Telecommunities Canada

On 11-Mar-06, at 3:58 AM, Ralf Bendrath wrote:

> Garth Graham wrote:
>> Hardt is making a prediction that simple and open "user centric"
>> identity is inevitable.  If anything is close to the heart of IG  
>> in the
>> sense that I meant, it's the issue of how participation in an online
>> world changes our personal need to control the expression of  
>> identity.
>> If Hardt is right (and I hope he is), then beyond IG Forum/ Caucus
>> process issues, identity is an issue where civil society voices from
>> within the Information Society must play a strong advocacy role.
> Very good point, and one that we largely missed to discuss during  
> the WSIS
> phase (Bertrand made one brief attempt last year, but then  
> everybody was
> too busy).
> The issue of identity (and of online identity management) is strongly
> related to privacy, in the sense that the netizens (or citizens -
> whatever) have to be able to control what kind of information they  
> give to
> whom, and how that is used afterwards. It also is related to  
> pseudonymity
> and anonymity, and a strong fear among privacy advocates is that  
> all these
> infrastructures (the Internet, ambient intelligence systems, RFID
> passports, ...) will make is less easy of even impossible to do things
> anonymously. There is a great deal of work currently being done on
> "Privacy and Identity Management" (PIM) infrastructures, but largely
> without public participation...
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