Microsoft released a white paper entitled “The Identity Metasystem: Towards a Privacy-Compliant Solution to the Challenges of Digital Identity.” The excellent paper, authored by Microsoft’s Internet Policy Council Ira Rubinstein and Tom Daemen, senior attorney with Microsoft, and posted on Kim Cameron’s blog, is a must-read for everyone interested in user-centric ID management systems. (Disclosure: As you can take from the acknowledgments, I have commented on a draft version of the paper, based on my earlier observations on “Identity 2.0”-like initiatives.)
Among my main concerns – check here for other problem areas – has been Microsoft’s claim that the i-card model is “by design” in compliance with the unambiguous and informed consent requirement as set forth, for instance, by EU data protection law. I’ve argued that the “hardwired”-argument (obviously a variation on the theme “regulation by code”) might be sound if one focuses on a particular relationship between one user and one identify provider and/or one relying party – as the white paper does. However, at the aggregated level, the i-card model’s complexity – i.e. the network of informational relationships between one user and multiple ID providers and relying parties – increases dramatically. If we were serious about the informed consent requirement, so my argument, one would wish that the user could anticipate not only the consequences of consent vis-à-vis one ID provider, but would understand he interplay among all the components of the ID-system. Even in less complex informational environments, experience has shown that the making available of various privacy policies can’t be the answer to this problem – as the white paper seems to acknowledge.
In this regard, I particularly sympathize with the white paper’s footnote 23. It might indeed be a starting point for an answer to what we might call the “transparency challenge” to create “a system enabling web sites to represent privacy policies in a simple, iconic fashion analogous to food labels. This would allow consumers to see at a glance how a site’s practices compared to those of other Web sites using a small number of universally accepted visual icons that were both secure against spoofing and verified by a trusted third party.” (p. 19, FN 23.) Such a system could become particularly effective if the icons – machine-readable analogous to creative commons labels – would be integrated in search results and monitored by “Neighborhood campaigns” similar, for instance, to Stopbadware.com.
Although Microsoft’s paper leaves some important issues unadressed, it seems plain to me that it takes the discussion on identity and privacy protections as code and policy an important step further – in a sensible and practical manner.