All human interactive protocols depend upon our ability to identify one another. In this article we examine identification in terms of SABSA Business Attributes. It seems at first glance to be extremely simple, but when you start to look closely, it is full of both subtlety and complexity.
First of all we shall establish the concept of the core identity. Each of us as individuals has a core identity. You are you, I am me, and we shall evermore be so. When we die our core identity dies with us but its existence is recorded in history books and in the minds of those that knew us. When a new baby is born, a new core identity is created. Core identities are not recycled. However, the core identity that is contained within each of us needs to be externalised for interaction with other people, and so we now move to the concept of identifiers. We can immediately see that there is a huge difference between core identity and an identifier associated with that core identity. As humans we think most often in terms of names and other information that can be recorded in language as being the nature of identifiers, but the truth is much more fundamental than that.
Consider what you may often see on television: a large beach area covered with hundreds of thousands of penguins. To us they all look the same. The saying goes, if you have seen one, you have seen them all. You know what a penguin looks like and you can identify it as being a penguin, but probably not as a specific penguin. For the penguins it is quite different. First, they do not have the linguistic concept of penguin, but still they know the difference between their own species and another animal. Secondly, they can recognise and identify other individuals with which they are acquainted. Each penguin in a bonded pair pair knows exactly which other one is their mate, and they all know which bundles of fluff are their own chicks. They can distinguish physical features, sounds and smells as innate identifiers. Let us call these core identifiers because they are physically linked to (and indeed part of) the core identity. Perhaps modern advances in DNA identification belong to this class of core identifiers too.
Humans have evolved complex sophisticated societies based on language and communication, in which external identifiers can be created as linguistic information. Names are inherited and given, and along with date of birth and place of birth this combination of data can provide a unique form of identification for each individual. The core identifiers such as the face and sound of voice are used more as authenticators these days, as in the case of photoID. A passport associates a face picture with a name, date of birth and place of birth, to authenticate that the presenter of the passport is indeed the authentic owner of those pieces of information. The key to creating any strong core identifiers and authenticators is a strong registration process, such as the registration of all births with the authorities.
What then is identity theft? It is certainly not the theft of a core identity, but the theft of sufficient identifiers to impersonate someone else’s core identity.
Each core identity has associated with it a number of personae, with each persona being one aspect of that individual’s life. Each of us has many personae: as a citizen, as a medical patient, as a family member, as a member of a club or society, as an employee of a company, and so on. Each persona in your collection is represented by a selection of your identifiers and other personal identity attributes, now perhaps including new identifiers such as membership numbers, address details and many more. However, because you share some details with other people in support of your relationship with them, you do not choose to share all of your details. This is the issue of personal privacy. Privacy is the right to segregate your personae from one another so that knowledge of one persona does not reveal knowledge of the others, and may not reveal your core identifiers unless you so choose. People who live ‘double lives’, such as spies, criminals and unfaithful spouses, may even wish to hide their core identity with a false identity. In some cases this will extend into the need for an anonymous or unidentified persona. Quite legitimately, many people register on Internet sites with an avatar and a screen-name, which are examples of anonymous identifiers.
This shows that identity management is a complex subject, one that requires the consideration of many related SABSA Business Attributes. That is why the concept of SABSA Attribute Profiling is so powerful and so necessary for analysing the requirements for identity management.