Posts filed under ‘NZ’
Thank you, oh Google God, for giving us our Street View. We have been waiting for your bounty and you’ve delivered.
Om Tat Sat Paravastu. This is a Hindu prayer that, back in my boarding school days, we were required to say before every meal. On the rare occasion that there was a special spread of good stuff, the boys would say the prayer with some real feeling before jumping in.
And Street View has a spread of good stuff.
Like many others, first thing to look at was our house. No laundry; grass cut; nothing special. Check. Next, the office. Nothing to embarrass me. Check. Onto the goodies. So many things to look at, so little time. A good one is Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, one of the best holiday places ever.
The Street View of our house has our car prominently featured. Zooming in, I couldn’t make out the numbers on the licence plate. So I “drove” through the Mount Vic tunnel. The angle for looking at licence plates is perfect. But, true to their word, it isn’t possible to make out the licence plates.
Indeed, Google has handled the privacy angle really well. They seem to have learned from previous experiences of privacy concerns with Street View in other countries.
Google got the basics right, such as blurring faces and providing an easy tool for people to report inappropriate images. For good measure, they also got an endorsement from the Privacy Commissioner. And the media help set expectations by quoting John Edwards as saying, “under New Zealand law, people did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy while in public.”
The enormity of photographing an entire country and making it freely available is staggering. Stuff on this scale, and that too with enormous public good benefits, is associated with governments, not ten year old companies.
So I thought the kids would be blown away. Nah, they were disappointed that the images weren’t real-time. God, are you listening?
Looking at India becoming the sixth nation to launch a rocket to the moon got me thinking at a more global level. Such as, how would people in different countries respond if they’re asked “how much do you earn?”
In New Zealand, the answer is quite likely a flippant “not enough” or “I can get more in Australia.”
Salaries of chief executives and some other top execs can often be deduced. But, you won’t get an answer from the tax authorities if you ask. Secrecy is enshrined in law and is a key plank for voluntary tax compliance.
Ask a person in India and the answer is quite likely to be “officially or actually?” The ‘parallel economy’ is huge and cash is king.
Ask a person in Scandinavia and it’s no secret. In fact, in Sweden, Finland and Norway it’s public information. Published by the government for anyone who wants to have a look.
Magnus Graner of Sweden’s Justice Ministry says, “If it’s what you want to do, you can see what your brother-in-law made, your neighbour made. Not everybody does it, although we joke about it and say, ‘Have you checked on your future in-laws?’ No one in my family has done it — I don’t think.”
Perhaps it’s no wonder marriage is dying in Scandinavia. Also, divorce settlements are probably based on facts, not wild conjectures of what the other partner is or is not making!
I spent the day at the privacy forum “Privacy is your business” today in Wellington and wanted to put down some notes while things are still fresh.
I haven’t seen any media coverage yet but understand there will be some. As usual, I expect to see the stories and wonder if they are reporting about the same event that I attended.
In any case, I missed the highlight of the day as I was at a parallel stream- of the usually mild-mannered John Edwards in full flight, taking on the reps from the Office of the Ombudsmen and Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Pity that (missing it, not the taking on bit). Other than that and a small jibe about direct marketing at the end, there was just too much agreement on how great privacy is so that discussions were somewhat uni-dimensional.
Things got off to a good start. I was intrigued by one concept in Minister Lianne Dalziel’s speech, “… trusting interpersonal relationships are no longer the primary enabler of personal information transfer; technology is. Modern privacy law either ensures the individual retains some degree of control over the transfer or approximates a trusting interpersonal relationship – an honest broker as it were.” The notion of an “honest broker” to build trust in an information age is worth thinking about.
The next interesting point came from an insight into the Law Commission’s thinking about its Review Of Privacy. Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Professor John Burrows made it clear that wholesale restructuring of the Privacy Act was not on the agenda. The principles-based approach will be retained and only holes- surveillance, the tort of privacy, and sentencing anomalies- will be filled.
At a later stage, Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff repeatedly referred to the Privacy Act as a modern piece of legislation. I think the sub-text was that the Act didn’t need major restructuring but the message was delivered in a classically indirect manner.
The next nugget was a point made by TradeMe’s Mike O’Donnell. In his usual straightforward manner, he squarely took on the issue of TradeMe requiring to release customer information to the authorities.
He talked about their disappointment that personal details of 10,000 customers was handed over to the police who then passed it on to defence lawyers and, from there, a person in jail. TradeMe has a stringent requirement that information requests “must specify enabling legislation, be specific and limited- no fishing trips.” But, once these criteria were met, they will and do hand over customer information. Whether it’s Google or TradeMe or any other firm dependent upon maintaining peoples’ trust, handing over their customers’ information is painful.
One other thing I missed out on was asking Inspector John Walker of NZ Police why people “volunteer” to give their DNA samples. This was something that the 2007 Privacy & Human Rights Report issued by Privacy International highlighted as worrying.
Finally, two more interesting things. First, the very sensible perspective of local government (from Laurie Gabites of Wellington City Council) that CCTVs have a very limited role in public spaces. They look at them as a way of pro-actively avoiding incidents escalating but that requires active monitoring and big resources- money and people- that are better spent on more effective things.
Secondly, from Barbara Craig of Victoria University, the notion of mediated public spaces as the new commons for teenagers. Another concept worthy of further thought as we struggle to understand the “third space” (after home and school) of today’s kids.
Overall, the forum today had some interesting moments. If only they had some mavericks to stir things up…
There have been some negative reports around Snapper and its approach to privacy so I decided to take a look.
Snapper is a stored-value contactless smartcard that can be used in Wellington’s buses and as an alternative to cash/EFTPOS for low value purchases. It’s similar to Oyster, Octopus, etc. but with a more secure chip.
Losing a Snapper card is like losing cash. So people will soon be able to register their cards online. If a registered card is lost, the person can transfer the balance to a new card.
After that, it’s all downhill. A very slippery, steep decline at that.
For example, to set up an online account, Snapper says “we will collect personal information from you, including your name, title, email address, password, gender, date of birth, telephone numbers, postal or physical addresses, preferences, demographic information, and other personal information.”
Why? What possible justification can they have to collect this information? Incidentally, this probably makes it downright illegal.
Not being satisfied with that, they go on to say that “the information we collect when that Card is used will be associated with any personal information about the card holder that you supply.” So, they want both personal information plus profiling information. Wow! Considering the range of uses for the Snapper card outlined- everyday purchases, loyalty card, building access control, ticketing and event access- they seem more intent on being a datamart than a smartcard company.
Still not satisfied with that, they go on further to envisage Snapper being used as an identity card. They will then “collect additional information about you, which may include:
- your date of birth
- any relevant licences or endorsements that you hold
- other attributes relevant for identification purposes (for example, which school or university you attend)”
I’m left shaking my head in wonder. Did a dinosaur somehow survive the Ice Age?
I can’t see how they can verify the information people give. So, despite their warnings of giving incorrect personal information, I’m willing to bet that a lot of people will do just that.
And yet, the solution for the most part is actually quite simple. Snapper could use pseudonymous identity rather than real identity. Leaving aside tracking usage or their notion of becoming an identity card (which I can’t even begin to imagine as even remotely realistic), using pseudonymous identity could keep everyone happy.
Otherwise, I’ll just stick to good old anonymous cash, thank you.
I was both moved and intrigued by Robin Wilton’s plea to support an e-petition “to create a dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital within the UK.”
Moved because it seemed to be a worthy thing to do; intrigued because I wanted to see how they would verify that I met the condition of being a British citizen or resident to sign the petition.
Turns out that all that’s required is a valid address and postcode. If you’re an expat, you don’t even need that. So, “Earnest Hope” became the 41,380th person to sign the e-petition.
It left me wondering just how many other signatures are from people like me? And, does it really matter if the bulk of them are actually from eligible folks?
Also, isn’t there a better way for checking online whether a person is a UK citizen/resident?
That got me thinking about how to verify whether or not a person is a New Zealand citizen or resident. In-person checking is simple enough but what about an online check? Can’t think of a simple way that already exists.
On reflection, it turns out that a trusted system may actually be untrustworthy.
I was looking at some of the recorded presentations that I missed at the Managing Identity in New Zealand conference in April. If the delightful Wordle tool could make word clouds from videos, then one of the prominent words in the presentations would be “trust.” There were probably few, if any, presentations that didn’t use that word in conjunction with identity systems.
Just what is the relationship between identity systems and trust? Given that every presenter thought it is a critical component of an identity system, it’s worth trying to uncover the relationship between the two.
To me the word trust seemed to cover a wide spectrum of meanings- different people used the word to mean different things. At one extreme is what I’d call technical trust while at the other is business trust.
A good example of technical trust is Stefan Brand’s presentation about Credentica’s U-Prove™ technology. He would probably define trust in terms of protocols, cryptographic proof, encryption, non-repudiation, digital signatures, message integrity, unlinkability, etc. Trust would, in this case, be the outcome from the technical features of an identity system.
At the other extreme is what a person like the Privacy Commissioner means by trust. She used it to mean “protect them [people] from the many possible harms that can arise from misuse of their personal information”; “to give credible, proveable reassurances”; and “people to feel too insecure to give out their information, and crippling e-govt and e-commerce systems.” She goes on to quote a minister that “Damage the trust of citizens and you damage the notion of citizenship, and governing becomes that much harder.”
I visualise the relationship between technical trust and business trust as two concentric circles. The smaller, inner one is technical trust and the larger, outer one business trust to represent:
- technical trust is a sub-set of business trust, i.e. it is impossible to achieve business trust without first getting technical trust; and
- technical trust on its own is insufficient, i.e. for an identity system to be trustworthy, it must have both technical trust and business trust. Otherwise, we get a (technically) trusted system that is untrustworthy from a business or user perspective.
Vendors of identity systems tend to focus on technical trust and make passing references to business trust. That’s one of the things that make the Liberty Alliance attractive- it has a focus on both technical and business trust.
As an aside, locally we seem to be getting there as evidenced by a recent post Govt moves forward with online ID by Richard Wood.
What else would you call it? Consider the facts:
- He spent over two years building bot nets- not a person who was a mule but someone who actively recruited people for his A Team- and would have kept going if not stopped. The judge still sees no criminal intent on his part, just curiosity.
- Even the prosecution called for leniency. So much for the vaunted FBI operation Bot Roast.
- He controlled 1.3 million computers around the world yet escaped conviction (also video) since it might ruin the prospects of using his skills in a positive way. No doubt those 1.3 million people are thrilled at that prospect as is UPenn, which he crashed for a couple of days with an accidental distributed denial of service attack
- All he got was a fine of $9,526 or about US$ 7,300 for damage that runs into millions of dollars because all the police actually proved was the UPenn attack.
OK, so he was 16 when he started and suffers from mild Asperger’s syndrome but what message does the sentence send to bored teenagers? That the Internet is a lawless wild west? That if you’re stupid enough to get caught, don’t worry, there’s not going to be a hanging? Instead, the police and overseas companies will line up to give you a job? That all you’re going to get is a fine that you can probably pay from your first month’s salary (as you’ve already blown the $40,000 you’ve made)?
From the news coverage, it seems to me that all of the hinting that he might work for the police is just a red herring.
Owen Walker was not that good a programmer, even though the police think so (video), just a person with a very relaxed sense of right and wrong.
The message is physical crime is not worth it- you actually do get sent to jail and no prosecutor is going to ask a judge to discharge you without a conviction. The Internet is where the smart guys go to- it seems that everyone is on your side then.
On TV (video) they aren’t willing to speak out against the sentence. So what’s next? A book deal? An invitation to speak at the RSA Conference a la Frank Abagnale?
Do we get the crime that we deserve?
As a term that most of us find intuitively easy to define, it turns out that getting a precise and generally accepted definition of the term ‘identity’ is far from easy.
The first question of course is whether it’s even worth the effort to try and get a precise definition. I think the answer is ‘yes’ for several reasons.
First, identity involves personal information and people expect that government collects and holds their personal information in a secure manner with their privacy appropriately protected.
Secondly, people need to prove who they are many times during a day. While typically people only need to do that with government infrequently, for a government agency it is of critical everyday importance to have confidence in the identity of the person they are dealing with. For example, an agency needs to be sure that government services are being delivered to the right person. Another example is ensuring that the right person has access to their own personal information such as health records or tax records.
On the one hand, people want convenient access to their information and government services. On the other hand, government as a whole has to manage the identity-related risks and ensure that the taxpayer’s money is spent well.
Finally, consider this quote from a recent report by Sir James Crosby to the UK Government, “… those countries with the most effective ID assurance systems and infrastructure will enjoy economic and social advantage, and those without will miss an opportunity. There is a clear virtuous circle. The ease and confidence with which individuals can assert their identity improves economic efficiency and social cohesion…”.
Looking around, both in New Zealand and overseas, we saw that most of the focus on ‘digital identity’ and ‘user-centric identity’. Also, ‘identity management’ is typically defined in technology terms such as ‘authentication’ and ‘authorisation’. And yet, all of these still don’t answer the fundamental question of just what ‘identity’ is in the first place.
To help get us a better insight into the thinking of the academic world and the approaches taken in some other countries, we turned to Victoria University of Wellington. Professor Miriam Lips, with the help of her student Chiky Pang, has now completed her report Identity Management in Information Age Government (PDF, 557 KB) and we have published it on the e-government website.
It turns out that the answer to our questions has a variety of answers. However, it does validate our current approach that one of the useful ways to look at identity is to consider that people have a single, unique identity but many context-dependent partial identities or personas. The result is more of an onion than linear, so that operating at the outer layers of the onion may not have any connection at all with the unique core:
Another interesting insight from the report is the move to an informational definition of identity from a document-based definition. The impact of the Information Age is to make it increasingly necessary for governments to consider identity information- its collection, verification, storage, maintenance, and disposal- rather than just the issue and use of identity documents.
As we look at these issues in finer and finer detail, it remains important to not lose sight of the basics. Such as, people own and control their own identity while government’s role is to manage their identity information well. And, the need to put theory into practice.
So that in the future, when Bill and Jessica want to return home to New Zealand, they have one less thing to worry about.
[Original post at
I’m just back from attending eGovernment 2008 in Canberra. For me, the big draw was an opportunity to attend a three hour workshop focussed on the UK’s Government Gateway. I sure wasn’t disappointed- the insights into the Government Gateway were quite an eye opener.
Attending the conference also led me to reflect on how online authentication is working for the Queen’s subjects in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. It’s quite fascinating how each of them reflect diverse approaches and are also very much a product of their times.
First, Australia. Still very PKI focussed, as in standard X.509 certs in the user’s computer. There are some good intentions from the federal policy body AGIMO (Australian Government Information Management Office) to move on to solutions that work for people (not computers) but the mindset of the average government official is definitely digital certs.
A good example of this focus is the success of VANguard. VANguard’s authentication service is probably best described as an authentication broker whose main function is to allow for interoperability of digital certs issued by various CAs. This is a good step so that businesses (it’s mostly business-focussed) can use the same digital cert with multiple RPs. It’s a back-end hub so that various front-ends and portals, such as bizgate in South Australia, can draw on its functionality. Still, it has all the limitations inherent in the old PKI designs.
It’ll be interesting to see how AGIMO’s proposed National e-Authentication Framework will differ from their existing AGAF (Australian Government e-Authentication Framework) which is separate for businesses and individuals.
Back to the UK’s Government Gateway. From the outside, so much of the focus has been on the UK’s plans for a national identity card that people, including me, can’t distinguish the good stuff they have done and are continuing to do in the online authentication space from the bad. Jim Purves, Head of Product Strategy in the Cabinet Office gave terrific insights into the chequered history of the Gateway as well as plans going forward.
The Gateway is very privacy-protective, very focussed on providing authentication and SSO for the UK Government’s online services. They are introducing SAML 2 soon but that also has the downside of continued support for all the current protocols. They’ve had some significant funding challenges in the past but now have “strategic investors” from within government so the future is bright. Trust and confidence in the Gateway is at an all-time high.
Purely speculative on my part but I think they’ve got a big cloud on the horizon- when the national identity card folks come calling. That could potentially lead to a fundamental change in approach. That’s the unfortunate steamrolling impact of the national identity card. Also interesting how they handle pan-European interoperability but, with a strong Liberty Alliance foundation, I imagine they are well placed to handle that.
So, how does NZ stack up? The proper comparison is with the GLS or Government Logon Service (which will be re-branded igovt later this year). There’s no doubt that the GLS is the most privacy-protective of the lot and has all the right moving bits.
But, there is clearly one area that the GLS should look at- adding a web services (ID-WSF) capability in addition to the current browser re-direct (ID-FF). That will provide many new opportunities off the same infrastructure, such as acting as an authenticating receiver for XML messages. The UK’s Government Gateway currently does that for all electronic tax filings direct from standard tax and accounting packages.
All in all, interesting times and much thinking…
I started this blog about 11 months back to share and think about “my journey through the identity, privacy, and online authentication space.” Since then, I’ve put in a decent 137 posts; received 211 great comments; and a disgraceful 2,466 spam comments.
I’ve got into trouble with “the authorities” once and learnt from that. Still, I think the many hours of my own time spent on the blog have been personally fulfilling and a very worthwhile effort.
But things change and so it’s time to change tracks on the journey but not stop.
I’m taking on a new role from Tuesday, 1st July in the same organisation- Manager Strategy and Innovation. I will still continue to have a lot of responsibilities and interest in the identity space. At the same time, I will have a very wide remit and therefore only be able to direct a fraction of my time to this area. Already, my frequency of posting has come down quite a bit in the run up to taking on the new role.
On the more positive side, even as I post less on this blog, necessity will drive me to the elusive goal of high-quality posts. Now, that’s a worthy goal!