Authentication East and West

Yesterday the CIS and the Berkman Center collaboratively hosted a workshop on ID-Management centered around Microsofts proposal for an ID-Metasystem. Except a couple of academics most attendees were from the tech community that currently is pushing ID-Management to become the next big thing - and it certainly will be!Microsofts ID-Metasystem is actually embracing ideal heralded by the Open Source scene, a development that didn't really surprise me (see here why), but I was very impressed by the massive and very determined bottom up effort to build a infrastructure for identity management. It became more than once palpable that some in the tech community whish to do without the state and even still have the fantasy that they could build solutions that render the state unnecessary. Besides the fact that state and commodity exchange share a reciprocal relationship, since no private actor can legitimately enforce property rights, this is a very different development from the developments in several European countries.

During the second half of the nineties European governments encouraged businesses, namely the financial sector and the telcos, to build a digital signature infrastructure for authentication. These efforts ultimately failed in the market and from the year 2001 on there is a massive top down effort by some European governments to implement Digital-IDs by means of the Digital Signatures. A prime vehicle for this is the social welfare system in countries like Germany and Austria, where service-provision currently is reorganized around E-Government procedures.

Currently the developments in the US and Europe are seemingly completely disassociated, although they tackle the same fundamental problem of authentication on the net. There is a definite need for more information-exchange, last not least since the discussion I saw yesterday is much broader and shows deeper concern and sensibility for issues like privacy and end-user control of private data compared to what currently is present in the public consciousness in Europe. And that even held true for the Microsoft people that were present!

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