Monday, December 13, 2004

What is a birth certificate?

There's an interesting conversation on Carl Ellison's blog ostensibly about identity theft. Carl & Bob Blakely (Chief Scientist at IBM Tivoli in the security area) get side-tracked into a discussion of birth certificates, their origin and use. I would have posted to that conversation, but only those pre-authorized by Carl can comment.

Bob calls the birth certificate a "breeder document" which can be used to create authentication mechanisms, while Carl calls it an authentication mechanism. They speculate on the birth certificate's use as a device to either help witnesses to the birth remember details or as proof of heridity for inheritance perposes.

But the birth certificate is none of this - it's only an attribute-holding record associated with the person identified thereon. It indicates parentage, true, but it also indicates place and date of birth. Provided that the person brandishing the birth certificate can be authenticated as the person named in the document, then the data can be accepted as true. As one example, when applying for a passport a person is authenticated by a photo ID (such as a driver's license) with the same name & birth date as the birth certificate. The birth certificate is then accepted as proof of place of birth. The birth certificate itself is never used as an authenticator.

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