March 15, 2006

Just another day in the office of Identity Control

Over at CeBIT I spent some time at the CAcert booth checking out what they were up to. Lots of identity checking, it seems. This process involves staring hard at government Id cards and faces, which gets a bit tricky when the photo is a decade or two out of date. What do you say to the heavy-set matron about the cute skinny teenager on her identity card?

One artist chap turned up and wanted to sign up as an artist. This turns out to be a 'right' in Germany. Lo and behold, on his dox there is a spot for his artist's identity name. Much debate ensued - is CAcert supposed to be upstream or downstream of the psuedonymous process?

In this case, the process was apparently resolved by accepting the artist's name, as long as the supporting documentation provided private clarification. Supporting nymous identities I think is a good idea - and age old scholars of democracy will point out the importance of the right to speak without fear and distribute pamphlets anonymously.

CAcert is probably downstream, and over in Taiwan (which might be representative of China or not) we discover more government supported nymous identities: passport holders can pick their own first names for their passport. Why? The formal process of translating (Kanji) Han into Latin for passports - (popumofu?) pinyin! - so mangles the real sense that letting a person pick a new name in Latin letters restores some humanity to the process.

This development is not without perverse results. It places CAcert in the position of supporting nyms only if they are government-approved yet frowning on nyms that are not. Hardly the result that was intended - should CAcert apply to sponsor the Big Brother awards - for protecting privacy - or to receive one - for supporting government shills?

Most people in most countries think Identity is simple, and this was evident in spades at the booth. For companies, one suggestion is to take the very strong German company scheme and make it world standard. This won't work, simply because it is built on certain artifacts of the German corporate system. So there is a bit of a challenge to build a system that makes companies look the same the world over.

Not that individuals are any easier. Some of the Assurers - those are the ones that do the identity verification - are heading for the Phillipines to start up a network. There, the people don't do government issued identity, not like we do in the West. In fact, they don't have much Id at all it seems, and to get a passport takes 4 visits to 4 different offices and 4 different pieces of paper (the last visit is to the President's Office in Manila...).

The easy answer then is to just do that - but that's prohibitively expensive. One of the early steps is visiting a notary, which is possibly a reliable document and a proxy for a government ID, but even that costs some substantial fraction of the average monthly wage (only about 40 Euros to start with).

A challenge! If you have any ideas about how to identify the population of a country that isn't currently on the identity track, let us know. Psuedonymously, of course.

Posted by iang at March 15, 2006 04:07 PM | TrackBack

No Bopomofu is the phonetic system. What you were looking for is pinyin, which is probably preferred above Wade-Giles and other more scholary transcription systems (from Han ideograms to latin alphabet).

Kanji is part the japaneese writing system (together with katakana, hiragana and romanji). Kanji is indeed based on the Han ideograms, but it is certainly not the same.

So if you speak about chinese, use Han ideograms instead of kanji.

Posted by: Twan at March 17, 2006 07:35 AM
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