Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What is Identity

And what do I come back to? Kim Cameron has finally decided to tackle a topic that should have preceded his Laws of Identity - thedefinition of identity!

According to Cameron:
A digital identity is a set of claims made by one digital subject about itself or another digital subject.

That may well be true, but it's so insipid as to serve as a definition of nothing. Kim goes on to prove this by excerpting others' definitions and alleging that his definition can stretch to cover.

I can "claim" many things about myself - I can claim I'm 30 years old, six foot four, blonde, 195 pounds with blue eyes and an engaging smile. Just because I claim it, though, doesn't make it so. And, at bottom, an "identity" needs to be accurate.

Even in a single digital context (one instance of a web site, say) an identity also needs to be unique.

Accurate and unique - two qualities I think any identity, especially a digital identity, needs to account for.

I'm kind of a free-wheeling sort and I believe the relationship between claim and fact isn't all that important. If I want to claim to be Elvis, then I should be able to. If my trusting party needs to know if I am in-fact Elvis, then it should specify that I use an IdP that reconciles my claim with some other authority such as the DMV (Who thinks I'm the Yamhill County Troll) and only publishes verified claims. Otherwise, if I claim an Elvis persona and it's good enough for my trusting party to know me as "entity claiming to be Elvis", then rock on.
I have to agree with Dave... Kim's definition did seem to me to be too weak. I can't claim to have condensed it to anything pithy, but I have certainly devoted some thought to the question "What is Identity?", and I've
posted the results here:

Comments welcome through that blog...
Best wishes,
There are identities and there are personas (personae if you'd rather).

Webster's Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged) c. 1986 gives the following definitions:

Persona: 1 pl personae: the characters of a fictional presentation; 2 pl personas: the social front, facade, or mark an individual assumes to depict to the world at large the role in life that he is playing...

Identity: 1a: sameness of essential or generic character in different examples or instances; 1b: sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing; 1c: an instance of such sameness; 2: unity and persistence of personality; 3: the condition of being the same with something described, claimed or asserted, or of possessing a character claimed...

So it seems to me that we talk about identity when we all we really have are personas. The underlying identity behind those personas is what we're trying to get at even though it's only ever the personas that we actually deal with.

The digital identity that Kim refers to is really only a persona. There's an identity underneath it, but the persona is is the face we see, i.e. the list of claims.

Identity in the digital world is different than identity in the real world. Unfortunately, it's the ability of someone to cross the line between the two that causes the problem. Anyone can claim to be me in the digital world, and by making that claim they could convince someone in the real world that they are me and therefore take control of some aspect of my life experience.

It is because of this that the definition of identity in the digital sense must include some means of verification external to the claimant.

Therefore the definition of Digital Identity shoudl be something like this,

A verifiable set of objects that proves the context in which an identity extends itself.
I enjoyed your diss on identity and find you may have sculpted uniqueness with your last sentence. It had no main verb and ended with a preposition.
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