I’m intrigued by the number of discussions there are around identity. There have been several here recently, for example:
- Adventures in identity: are you paranoid or schizophrenic?
- If identities are unique, why do I have so many?
- Why identity management is so complicated
And there are a number of blogs dedicated to identity management issues, such as Dave Birch’s Digital Identity Blog and Kim Cameron’s Identity Blog. There’s even a film called Identity, although it has nothing to do with identity management and is far more related to being schizophrenic.
So what is the problem with identity?
Maybe it is related to the latter – not being schizophrenic but certainly having multiple identities. That’s the issue.
We need a way to uniquely identify people for governmental purposes and for financial matters.
From a government perspective, it’s all to do with taxation and benefits, with far too many people being able to buck the benefits systems and claim multiple benefits for multiple identities when all the money is flowing to a single claimant.
The same is true in finance, where it is too easy to create multiple accounts with multiple names and addresses. We may say, with all the AML rules about account opening, that this is not true today … not true.
Students learn the benefit of multiple overdrafts early in life. For example, a comment from Sam Sam in the Student Room:
Re: Opening multiple student accounts
“In the blurb that you have to agree to, the banks often want to know that the account with them will be either your 'only' or your 'main' student account. loads of people have several different accounts though, people just tell porkies. If you need to provide a previous bank statement or something, you could just take a statement from a regular/solo account. just don't tell them.”
But do they do this with different names and addresses … probably not. For example, I have multiple bank accounts – business and personal – but they all come back to a single, unique person and address.
And what happens to that single, unique person and address?
They give it away on Facebook:
"The days of you having a different image for your … co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly … Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity." Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook
So here’s my lack of integrity: I’ve got two Facebook accounts, three bank accounts, four Twitter accounts, five credit cards, several land addresses and many more email addresses and yes, you’ve guessed it, about ten different personalities.
All of the above makes it clear how it is possible to defraud or disappear, if you know how.
Case in point: Jason Bourne.
In the excellent series of films about Bourne, which began with the Bourne Identity (there's that word again), we learn that he’s a lost man. What is his identity? Who is he? How can he find out? How can he prove he is Jason Bourne?
Living under a pseudonym with memory loss means the original person has been lost.
Good film … but it is all fiction isn’t it?
The proof reader of Neil Strauss’s latest book, Emergency (March 2009), talks about how to be a Jason Bourne in real life, through the creation of multiple bank accounts and holding several passports.
“If you wanted to withdraw your entire life savings and move it to a bank in Switzerland, what would you do? Now that I’d decided to hide my assets offshore, the information from the Sovereign Society conference about the government tracking withdrawals and transfers of more than $10,000 applied to me. It seemed impossible to get the money from my American bank to the Swiss bank Spencer recommended without ringing alarm bells. Even if I moved it in small increments, there would still be a paper trail detailing exactly how much money I’d transferred. So I did what any resourceful American would do: I bought a book on money laundering.”
Oh, so simple … if you want to do this. I'm not advising that btw, but the potential and possibilities are clear and, whilst we have these gaps in the system for those who want or need to leverage and crack them open, identity management will always be an issue for governments and banks.
So what’s the solution?
An identity card with biometric recognition? A DNA database of all citizens?
The UK has tried both and the first thing the new UK government has shut down is the biometric identity card programme, because it’s too expensive, and their efforts to keep a DNA database are severely challenged.
So what is the solution?
I personally don’t think there is one. A bit like fraud, there will always be an ‘acceptable level’ of fraudulent identity usage.
The question then is what is that ‘acceptable’ level and how do you minimise money laundering, fraud and other underhand activity?
Probably through some sort of government and bank shared identity tracking system.
That would be my best guess anyway.
Meanwhile, must disappear now as I need to put some money into my very private Swiss bank account.