The Identity Divide and the Identity Archepelago

(I’d meant to post this in June. Oops! Chaos reigns!)

Peter Swire and Cassandra Butts have a fascinating new article, “The ID Divide.” It contains a tremendous amount of interesting information that I wasn’t aware of, about how infused with non-driving purposes the drivers license is. I mean, I know that the ID infrastructure, is, in essence and aim, an infrastructure of control. Even so, I didn’t realize how far it had gone as a tool of compliance enforcement.

There’s more to say than I can get into this blog post. Short form: go read it. Slightly longer form:

There are lots of details that are just great. For examples:

“The More ID checks in society, the more ID theft matters.” (page 11)

In a discussion of a 2005 deficit reduction act attempt to reduce medicaid fraud: “A GAO study instead found that the major effects of the program were higher administrative costs …and denial of medical benefits to eligible US citizens” (page 14)

“In addition, some state will not issue a state ID until a person has caught up on all outstanding payments due the staet, including traffic fines and child support payments. As ID requirements spread, persons who cannot afford to make all such payments may be denied the right to vote, to receive health insurance, or to become lawfully employed.” (page 16)

“…independent reviews of the E-Verify program have found that employers engage in prohibited employment practices…” (page 18)

My copy of this report is covered in markup, about “the computer is always right,” about linkability, about data shadows. In fact, about the only thing I don’t like is the title. I don’t think this is a divide, I think that identity has become an archepelago, a la the Soviet Gulag system.

In the preface to The Gulag Archepelago, Solzhenitsyn wrote:

And this archipelago crisscrossed and patterned that other country
within which it was located, like a giant patchwork, cutting into its
cities, hovering over its streets. Yet there were many who did not
even guess at its presence, and many, many others who had heard
something vague.

I think the argipelago is a better metaphor than a divide. A divide
exists, and most of us exist on one side of it. But the identity
archipelago! At a moments notice, we can be thrust onto its other
side. A phone call, a letter, and our identity’s connection to the
machine is broken. Our data shadow has sinned, and we are cast into
the archipelago, forced to learn its ways.

In conversation, Peter has said that the Gulag analogy is too over-used, which is a shame. Maybe identity is more like an accident–you’re driving along and 35 and boom, you wake up in the hospital. Maybe it’s more like a vase, dropped and you’re cutting yourself picking up the shards. What’s the right description for the fragile system we have where people get violently yanked into the nightmares?

[Comments have been closed because of a flood of spam against this single entry.]

Choose your own prescription (glasses)

adaptiveintro.jpg

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription. (The Guardian)

What’s most interesting to me is how well Professor Silver actually went out and understood a problem. Most of us see no need for adjusting our own glasses. But in the developing world, there aren’t nearly as many opticians. Getting a prescription can be impossible. The essence of great product management is to understand a real problem people face, and give them a complete solution in which they’re willing to invest their time and money.

Silver didn’t just solve the academic problem of “could it be done,” he also set up a company, “Adaptive Eyecare Ltd.”

Security through obscurity

…or, antique car collectors are an honest lot.
According to the Times (of London, dear chap), a recently-deceased British surgeon has left his heirs a rather significant bequest: a super-rare, super-fast, antique Bugatti which hasn’t been driven since 1960 and is expected to fetch several million at auction.
This is the fabled “Imagine their surprise, when in the back of the barn they found a…” story. Except, well, records are kept of motor cars, and aging recluses tend not to move much:

James Knight, the international head of Bonhams’ motoring department, was one of those who knew where the example, chassis number 57502, was hiding.
“I have known of this Bugatti for a number of years and, like a select group of others, hadn’t dared divulge its whereabouts to anyone.

The article also quotes the late doctor’s nephew:

People must have known because he got letters from all over the country. He got notes pushed through his door. People travelled to try and convince him to sell the car.”

Fascinating.

Biometric Fail reported

A South Korean woman entered Japan on a fake passport in April 2008 by slipping through a state-of-the-art biometric immigration control system using special tape on her fingers to alter her fingerprints, it was learned Wednesday…

During questioning, the woman allegedly told the immigration bureau that she had bought a forged passport from a South Korean broker who told her to purchase an air ticket for Aomori Airport.

The woman also was quoted as saying that the broker gave her the special tape with someone else’s fingerprints on, and that she slipped past the biometric recognition system by holding her taped index fingers over the scanner.

So reports the Yomiuri Shimbun, “S. Korean woman ‘tricked’ airport fingerprint scan.” The story doesn’t mention a name, but if anyone has more details, I’d love to know more.

[Update: DanT has some interesting speculation in the comments about both operational aspects of the entry being an inside job, and that the bureaucracy in question would re-assign the insider rather than prosecute.]

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