Microsoft lines up with the good guys on identity tech

Brands and Cameron pitch the fix for government's Big ID problem


We lack analogies and illustrations. You can't talk in terms of castles, safes, guns, bullets, locks or keys. But there's a serious and real problem of privacy and security on the net.

We now routinely and irrevocably leave our details all over the place as we transact on line. We're increasingly open to exploitation, fraud, impersonation, discrimination and wrongful service denial.

Yet some of the best minds in government and law enforcement are all in favour of this level of transparency, hopeful it will make their job of keeping tabs on troubled souls whose religious anger or drug business causes social problems.

The quality of global surveillance offered by the digital certificates we use in transacting seems to them providential; a welcome aspect of the natural unfolding of our technological era. At a stretch, you can see why they might think like that.

But the state isn't perfect, nor will it ever be. The unsuspected characteristics lurking in what Dr Brands calls "the most pervasive electronic surveillance tool ever built" will appeal to baser instincts in officials and politicians with corrosive effect.

Furthermore, irrefutable evidence of our transactions and behaviour is increasingly available to nitwits and crooks in every organisation with which or through which we transact - banks, ISPs, search-engine companies and telcos.

Today's Internet is an electronic El Dorado for the professional criminal, and it gets better all the time. As we destroy everyone's privacy in the on line world we make it unsafe for all. Government itself supports this dangerous trend, when it should be protecting us from it.

Now the Tory and LibDem UK political opposition have spotted that centralised “panoptical” (all-seeing) systems such as centralised health records, childrens' databases, and the centralised ID System now present a visible threat to human welfare.

The solutions you can't understand

But as with global warming or plastic waste, no-one seems to own the problem of the pollution of cyberspace with personal data. It's very hard for an entrepreneur – whose assets essentially reside in his own head – to say "Here's a solution I've invented and patented which solves the problem you don't know you have, in ways you'll never understand. It gives you other benefits you never expected or sought and frankly wouldn't believe possible until you do the maths, which you won't be able to."

That's not an easy sell to banks, supermarkets, or telcos. It's hardly a political "open goal" for the Home Secretary. There's no easy way for a start-up to generate cash with something so fundamental and large scale. It's a wonder that Dr Brands maintained his composure, humour, grace and sanity in the last 15 years.

His proposition only works for a market leader – a Visa, Google or Microsoft – that stands to gain from boosting confidence in the overall market.


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