How many identities do you have?

November 14, 2007

Day Three 

Discussion of such an emotive topic in this setting really brings home just how complex we are both as individuals and as a society. If I actually sat down to consider how fragmented my identity really is I might be there a while! Most people would tell you that being able to hold different ‘personas’ depending on the contextual setting is a valuable ability. and, of course, the type and depth of the the information you provide in one setting (e.g. when you apply for a credit card) is not the same in another (e.g. when you complete your tax return). Can you tell that the last couple of days have been very thought provoking????

It has been fascinating and I am looking foward to seeing the ideas that are now bubbling away start to grow. This is where it gets really interesting…

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3 Responses to “How many identities do you have?”

  1. Iain Henderson Says:

    I had 372 at last count – arranged in 6 tiers.

  2. Toby Stevens Says:

    I only have one identity. That’s me. I know who I am. You can’t steal it from me.

    But I use many personae, and the UK, like many ‘western’ nations, is built upon pseudonymity. For example, I have about a dozen pieces of plastic in my wallet. There is no direct link between the Toby that holds a Visa card and the T Stevens that holds an Amex. When I apply for a new financial product, the provider has to rely on the likes of Experian and Equifax to derive confidence about whether those are the same individual.

    For three years I lived in Hong Kong, where it is impossible to obtain a financial product without first presenting a local ID card. It’s a very easy environment to live in; no running around with utility bills, passports etc to prove your entitlement, you just whip out the single card. Oh, but you can be jailed for bad debts. In this environment it is very hard to have multiple personae – is this ‘mononymity’?

    The disturbing tension surrounding the UK’s National Identification Scheme (NIS) is that of citizens, who are accustomed to pseudonymity, coming into conflict with government that could clearly deliver transformational services and national security so much more easily if pseudonymity is removed. The NIS removes pseudonymity from the citizen’s relationship with government.

    However, industry is less sure of the benefits. There is a significant vested interest in pseudonymisation: credit reference agencies exist because of it, financial providers can use it to justify product APRs and branding of the cards in your wallet, and a whole industry of information brokerage is springing up around pseudonymisation services.

    Ironically, there is a convergence between the NIS’ objectives and those of the naysayers that could easily be achieved if the debate were to return to the roots of identity. A trusted identity, underwritten by the state, could be used to deliver pseudonymity and anonymity services in the commercial sector – you don’t need to know who I am if the government can find me when things go wrong. Credit cards could have no name or number on the face of them; I could use different names at work and at home; I could refuse to tell a bank who I am when I open an account.

    So, back to the question: how many identities do I have? One. How many should I have? One. How should I be able to use and express that identity? In an unlimited number of ways – or not at all.

  3. Simon Says:

    RE: Toby Stevens
    Firstly, I think your perception of the citizens relationship with the state is entirely wrong. The state serves the people, not the other way round. Thats the reason ID cards were revoked after WW2.

    It sounds like you want to sacrifice peoples ability to determine who they are and how they present themselves to the world to the alter of ease and governmental efficiency. What gives you so much faith in the way government operates?

    You claim that ‘transformational services’ (whatever they are) and national security will be improved if only we had an ID card, but can you back it up? Certainly the government cannot back up the security angle, because although they always bring it up as a benefit when they’re pushing information one way, when they’re pressed on the matter in 2 way communication they back down and admit that they don’t have any proof that security will be improved by ID cards.


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