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Internet Passport? No thanks.

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28 April 2011 11:01

Jonas Rey is completing a Masters in Global Governance at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland. He is writing his thesis on internet governance and is a part-time intern at the Lowy Institute.

You don't need to show your ID when you buy a coffee, so why would we need one to buy things online?

Recently, US President Obama unveiled his Administration's plan for an online ID to 'protect consumers from fraud and identity theft'. According to the White House, the ID would mean people no longer have to remember different passwords and make navigation on the web easier and safer.

For the moment, the online ID can be obtained on a voluntary basis. But some experts say it is inevitable that this scheme will become compulsory in the future.

This plan might look nice on paper, but it raises some challenging privacy issues, including whether users have a right to remain anonymous, should they choose, online. 

An Internet passport would be the equivalent of having to show your ID whenever you enter a shop, just in case you were tempted to steal something.

Such a proposal would likely meet stiff resistance, but in cyberspace there are a number of prominent proponents of just such a scheme.

Barack Obama, the Secretary General of Interpol and members of the IT industry such as the CEO of Kaspersky are strongly in favor of an Internet passport.

While Internet passports are an attempt to counter online fraud, they too will have to be digital and therefore likely falsifiable.

An alternative approach to a safer Internet is consumer education.

It would be great if the promoters of Internet passports could apply the same energy and resources to informing people about safer ways to use the Internet, like securing wireless networks, choosing adequate passwords and how to avoid online fraud or spyware. Of course that is easier said than done.

As the Internet becomes an ever more integrated part of our lives, the tension between rights and regulation will likely become even more heated.

Photo by Flickr user lukemontague.

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