Do You Really Own Your Identity?

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Who Am I?

This age old philosophical question also has implications for our privacy and our freedoms. While assaults on our personal information seem to occur on a daily basis, it raises disturbing questions about who is actually in charge of our identity. In other words, do we really have control over how our identity is shaped and accessed or are we simply just puppets for third-parties who are using us for their gain. Sadly, my gut tells me that it’s the latter.

What we’re talking about here is our personal intellectual property, the data DNA vapor trail that is minted to us in the form of a  birth certificate and then a social security number.

At some point in our life trajectory, our identity falls prey to the control of the government and corporate entities. Our personal information then gets aggregated by third-parties to create a virtual representation of us. Suddenly, we as citizens begin losing control of the steering wheel.

A perfect example of this is the credit report that, through the use of questionable scoring tactics, provides a dashboard by which lenders make decisions about us. What’s included in these reports is often arbitrary. Case in point; cell phone payments, which most of us pay on time, are not included in most credit reports. That is until you become delinquent and then it does suddenly appear.

And have you ever tried to correct a credit report without having to pay for third-party help? Studies show that the vast majority of these reports have multiple – and at times, egregious -errors, all of which are stains on your online identity trail.

What continues to garner the most attention though are the unrelenting intrusions on our information privacy. Whether the result of security breaches, outside third-party snooping, identity theft or even ransomware attacks, assaults on our identity are occurring with increasing regularity.

And what’s most disturbing is that most of us are totally clueless and unaware of the fact that our identities are being chipped away with growing frequency.

Despite all of this, few of us have ever considered the extent to which our identities are controlled by others. Like chattel and slaves to the state, our choices in life are being robotically controlled to a certain extent. It’s scary to think that outside entities have gained so much easy access to that which is our greatest asset: the identity of who we really are. Sure, some say that privacy in the name of national interests has long been a lost cause and that, besides, we should have nothing to hide. I get that. Yet there is the larger side of me that finds these assaults on our identity very disturbing; the true essence of what we commonly know as Identity Theft.

In a way, we are all complicit in setting this ugly trap. If you are anything like me, you hit the ‘Yes’ button to acknowledge that you have read those disclosure statements without considering the digital footprint you are leaving. Check out the book Future Crimes: Everything is Connected, Everyone is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by John Goodman for a much deeper dive into the full impact of our habits.

Digital concerns aside, it’s stunning to me that many public records are still delivered to us in hard copy. These documents boost the likelihood of theft and nefarious uses, let alone the hassle of recovering them if lost.

 Enter the Age of Identity Self-Management

I believe that privacy is the new currency of a free economy. And having greater control and freedom over your personal identity is paramount to achieving this.

For starters, let’s consider the issue of access to our identity DNA. Traditionally, these forms of identification have been delivered to us in paper format. What if our birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, college diploma and other important documents were all available to us digitally – stored in a way that was secure,  instantaneously accessible and replaceable via our mobile devices?

What if these digital pieces could be linked together into a cohesive ‘safety deposit box’, an immutable record of documents all in one place, without relying on government and private third-party  entities to house it for us?

And instead of having to frequently re-state our information for identity verification, what if there was one secure access point, digitally controlled/reviewed by us, that could be accessed by others with our permission? Like when we start a new W-2 job and have to go on a search-and-rescue mission to find a second or third form of identification that we hid for safe-keeping.

While we’re at it, what if we could have our driver’s license digitally available on our smartphone? That, among other things, could reduce theft and forgery. Or we renew our license and have it immediately downloadable?

Hey, maybe even the homeless can actually have an identity (surprisingly tough to do without a physical address). A company called CleverMail is attempting to develop some intriguing innovations in this realm.

One last morbid thought. When someone dies, what if there was a way to put someone’s digital identity to rest with them?  Fancy that.

Michael Scott is a Denver-based writer specializing in disruptive, free market themes fueling the new digital economy. More on his work can be found HERE

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