16 February 2016

How do you prove your identity online?

It is an ongoing, and ever-growing, problem – how do we verify that we are who we say we are online without infringing privacy? 4263193267_fb5cee0c57_z

The government pushed this question ever further to the fore today with the announcement that it is set to become mandatory for commercial providers of pornography to have verification controls in place to prevent under 18s accessing the content.

For me, this raises several questions. Whilst something, undoubtedly, should be done to prevent children stumbling across this type of content; how can we protect internet users’ privacy at the same time?

Age verification is seemingly the clear way forward for these sites, but how do we verify the verification?

Some time ago we debated the introduction of ID cards and there was an outrage at the concept of having unique identifiers for individuals, however, we already have that. We have National Insurance numbers.

Marrying this with passport-style information – age, biometrics, etc – could be the answer; similar to the government’s Verify service which is in beta at the moment and enables you to verify your identity through existing third parties with whom you’re already registered.

Timpson worked with the government on this project as part of the OIX (Open Identity Exchange) and I think it is certainly a promising development in the identification arena.

But, with cybercrime on the up and a government renowned for data blunders (how many times have we heard of mislaid laptops or USBs containing top secret information left on the train?) are we ready to entrust the government with the key to accessing everything about our lives.

If this were used, for example, as this age verification for pornographic sites, that data could – theoretically – have simple access to see all of the porn sites you visited and when. Not something I would’ve thought they’d be rallying for considering the amount of times politicians have been caught with their pants down.

But something needs to be done – and done on social networks. I keep my children away from Twitter because it is just too easy to stumble across even the most extreme content. The ‘powers that be’ at Twitter have previously said that they won’t control the content in the same way that Facebook does, but I think that there needs to be significantly stronger action to tackle this issue.

There’s little point in placing restraints on pornography sites if it is freely available on a social network.

Ultimately though, it will be completely impossible to marry the two and keep everyone happy. I’d love to know your thoughts on the new bill and if online verification is going far enough, or is it going too far?

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