Digital Crises and Internet Identity Cards

Something that you learn if you (a) read agenda-setting and policy laundering books; (b) have ever worked in a bureacratic environment, is that it’s practically criminal to waste a good crisis. When a crisis comes along various policy windows tend to open up unexpectedly, and if you have the right policies waiting in the wings you can ram through proposals that would otherwise be rejected out of hand. An example: the Patriot Act wasn’t written in just a few days; it was presumably resting in someone’s desk, just waiting to be dusted off and implemented. 9/11 was the crisis that opened the policy windows required to ram that particular policy through the American legislative system. Moreover, the ‘iPatriot’ Act, it’s digital equivalent, is already written and just waiting in a drawer for a similar crisis. With the rhetoric ramping up about Google’s recent proclamations that they were hacked by the Chinese government (or agents of that government), we’re seeing bad old ideas surfacing once again: advocates of ‘Internet Identity Cards’ (IICs) are checking if these cards’ requisite policy window is opening.

The concept of IICs is not new: in 2001 (!) the Institute of Public Policy Research suggested that children should take ‘proficiency tests’ at age 11 to let them ‘ride freer’ on the ‘net. Prior to passing this ‘test’ children would have restrictions on their browsing abilities, based (presumably) on some sort of identification system. The IIC, obviously, didn’t take off – children aren’t required to ‘license up’ – but the recession of the IIC into the background of the Western cyberenvironment hasn’t meant that either research and design or infrastructure deployment for these cards has gone away. Who might we identify as a national leader of the IIC movement, and why are such surveillance mechanisms likely incapable of meeting stated national policy objectives but nevertheless inevitable?

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