The True Cost of Privacy: The Identity Ecosystem

    Sam Mutimer

    The Identity Ecosystem is a new initiative by President Obama designed to create a secure online identity for Americans and is being touted as a way forward for prohibiting piracy and online fraud.
    While the new system’s not mandatory, if enough people take part, or it became mandatory, it could have huge cultural and political implications.
    According to the US department of Justice, more than 10 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year which is costing the economy USD$559.7 million.
    The Identity Ecosystem will act as a secure gateway protecting personal information by storing it all in a centralised hub which is made accessible to approved third parties from both the public and private sectors.
    In other words, a person signs up with an “identity provider” who verifies his or her realness via a yet-to-be-defined ID system, which is then used for creating secure access to anything – from social media sites and online shopping sites to online tax and health records.
    Say an individual authenticates himself to an online pharmacy and makes an online request for the pharmacy to fill his prescription. The individual’s chosen identity provider gives authoritative proof that he is over 18 and that his prescription is medically legitimate and valid. While the technology will ensure that no unnecessary information is exchanged in this transaction such as his birth date or the reason for the prescription, like any system of this nature, it will need a very high level of governance to ensure the integrity and security of data being stored and accessed.
    Perhaps the bigger question for pondering is what the true impact of such a system would be?
    In Australia, we are by no means immune and figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that almost 800,000 people fall victim to scams each year! How would you feel about having an Identity Ecosystem in Australia, or is this merely the most sophisticated panopticon since Alcatraz?