Laurens Rademakers


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Create a universal internet passport which shows a person's true identity

The internet is a fantastic gift. The fact that we can create instant dialogues and hide behind a wall of anonymity has major advantages. It can help topple governments, it can expose corruption, it can help leak documents...

But at the same time, the lack of real identities creates a serious weakness. More and more evidence is emerging that firms and even governments are creating online armies of non-existant people, to push certain issues on the agenda, and to influence debates.

Fake profiles and persona are flooding fora, creating the impression that many people support a given cause.

This is dangerous. And the process is becoming automated. Sophisticated software is out there that will generate fake identities, fully equipped profiles, and disseminates them across themes and spaces to influence debates.

I propose the creation of a real, unique internet passport, that shows one's true identity.

You can use this passport to engage in debates where you don't have to hide your identity. When you read other forums, you can check whether people present their ideas with their real identity, or whether they're anonymous. This may help you in drawing conclusions on the importance of what's being presented.

In short, the passport is not obligatory, but can be used, whenever needed, in circumstances where this would help the user identify the sérieux of others' presence and to present himself as a serious subject.

The passport would be linked to a fixed internet-page; a phone-book of sorts. An anti-facebook that is based on real reality, and not on imagined or desired realities.

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    Mar 4 2011: Laurens, I am surprised that such a thought is coming from a farmer or tehnological farmer. :)

    Anyways its a great concept, especially in case where genuine inputs are required.
    Good that it should not be mandatory.
    I would request you to please share this idea with some companies. It would materialize in a great way.
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    Feb 28 2011: I, being neither crazy or a communist feel this is a disastrous idea!
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      Mar 1 2011: Can you explain why?
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        Mar 1 2011: yeah, probably should have in the first place, but I thought it was obvious.

        First and foremost: Privacy is totally lost. If one thinks this is a good thing one is a communist, thus my communist comment.

        2ndly: I agree with Matthiew Miossec that it could be used by governments in a bad way. They may impose it as obligatory to their citizens, or worse.

        3rdly: it's not necessary. you already have the option to be truthful as to who you are online - the system is in place: I can sign on to any "debate" site and use my real name, like I have with ted and facebook. (besides facebook is already doing that essentially by allowing you to sign on to other sites using your facebook account). and if I'm known as bill33 or Jordan Miller on the web no one really cares - it doesn't detract from the debate.
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          Mar 2 2011: Mm, maybe I should have explained it better. The passport is not compulsory, it is just a tool which can be used ad hoc. When and if one wishes to use it.


          1. Privacy is not at all lost. You lose it when it makes sense and when you choose to do so -- to engage in a serious debate, for example. The passport can be "activated" or "referred to" whenever one wishes.

          2. Again: the condition of the passport is that it is not obligatory. You make one if you want to.

          3. Your third argument doesn't hold, because there is no way to know who you are and whether you're truthful when you engage in a discussion on the internet. Even if you sign in with your supposedly "real name", nobody can tell that this is indeed your real name.

          That's the whole point of this idea: avoiding fakes and avoiding that fakes take over democratic spaces of debate -- which is what's actually happening.

          To put it in your terms: I want such a passport, because I'm not a fascist. I don't like democracy being taken over by an army of fake brownshirts who make propaganda for despicable causes, triggering naive people into believing they represent common sense and the majority.
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    Feb 28 2011: I don't know about that. Personally I find anonymity to be one of the great advantages of the internet. What people do and say online is much more traceable on the internet than in real life and constanly pinning a specific ID to the content of a user sounds to me to forfeit many liberties. Besides, I can see plenty of ways this could be exploited by governments.
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    Feb 28 2011: There are two main challgenges for this:
    1. Extra hardware is required. There are already devices called "SmartCard readers" which in turn read a digital certificate file from a SmartCard. The file (and in turn card) itself may be issued by any certified authority after they verify you are who you claim to be. There are certificates issued on USB Flash drives instead of SmartCards, but they are more vulnerable to tampering, since the USB Flash drive is writable, unlike the SmartCard.
    Some governments (e.g. mine; Bulgarian) have now embedded biometrical data with the passport itself. It would be best if the data there was also a personal digital certificate, but that's not yet the case, primarily because you need a different hardware to read this data, and...
    2. Extra software is required. Because there are various devices (SmartCards are not standardized), there are various drivers to go with them, with different possibilities presented by each. SmartCards typically just import temporarily the certficate from the card into IE, and remove it from IE when the card is taken out. Other browsers are left in the dust because drivers don't accomodate them. To be honest, I'm not sure if other browsers support personal certificates to begin with.
    As for the biometric data, if this is to be used in place of a certificate, it would require browsers and web servers alike to implement support for it.
    Add to that the fact that biometrical data itself is not exactly standardized yet, because it's in its infancy (at least in the eye of standardizing organizations).

    Worst of all: Even with all of this, if it's digital, it's fakeable. If biometrical data is standardized, it will conform to common patterns, generic enough to let any kind of biometrical data go though. There's nothing stopping anyone from generical random sequences that match the patterns. The only difference is that it would be slightly harder to do so initially.