ID After the Revolution
Sit back, clear your mind, and imagine the following for a few minutes ...
After years of intensive education, aided by both the homeschooling/unschooling movement and the increasing ineptitude of both federal and local government, freedom has finally come to your town. There are no officious state bureaucrats, no busybodies, no restraints on trade or activities between consenting adults. All adults who live here have chosen to do so, and have signed the minimal Charter that outlines the self-governance expectations for its inhabitants, procedures for arbitration of disputes, and consequences for breaking the Charter.
The result is a wonderfully prosperous, mildly chaotic, free environment where individuals transact their own business as they see fit, and with rare exceptions handle problems with others peaceably and between themselves. Businesses of all sorts -- except the kinds that flourished under the coercive grip of the state -- are thriving. Among the most successful -- and competitive -- businesses are those that deal with the identification needs of the sovereign individuals who live here, in the town now known as Anarchopolis.
Wait a minute -- what was that? There's no state, but there's still ID? Do free individuals really need to have some means of identification? Why? And what for?
To answer those questions, we first need to go back, way back, before technology came along to muddle things. Being social animals, we’ve always had a need to trust others: parents for food, shelter, and love; mates for love, and help with creating and maintaining a home and family; clan members for more general support and help fighting off other clans. As human society became more complex, we began transacting business with individuals we didn’t know personally. Trust and word of mouth were the primary means by which such impersonal transactions were carried out; if you’d done business with Sam the fisher (who, in later times, would be known as Sam Fisher) and were happy with the result, you told others about that and they were more likely to trust Sam and do business with him. Similarly, if Alfred the cooper (again, the job title morphing into a last name in later times) cheated you or made barrels of inferior quality, word would get around and folks wouldn’t trust him with their business.
"My word is my bond" and handshakes that sealed transactions were a sort of primitive means of ensuring an individual was who he claimed to be, and could deliver the good or service promised. As society became larger and more complex, written means of verifying personal information came about; letters of introduction and recommendation are two examples. These were common into the early 1900's; letters of recommendation are still relied upon in some circles (e.g., admission to a university).
The history behind the development of identification is explored in other chapters in this volume, so let's not get bogged down in the details. The point is that there has almost always been a need at some time or other in an individual's life to prove that either you are who you claim to be, or that you're an individual entitled to some kind of consideration (performing specific financial transactions, club membership, employment, and so forth). For these things -- for your protection as well as that of the party involved with you in the transaction -- some form of identification is a good idea. So, what uses would citizens of Anarchopolis have for identification?
Uses of Identification
"Identification" has long been a misnomer for the functions IDs have performed. Their actual purposes far exceed simple identification. However, keeping with popular and historical use, Anarchopolis residents continue to use the term to apply to the various items they use to perform a wide range of functions.
The first function of ID is authentication. This type of ID simply verifies that a certain name, symbol, or sign identifies a specific individual. To get such ID would be fairly easy; one could provide documentation that already links a name with their person. Or, with a certain number of individuals willing to accompany you and physically attest that you are said individual, you can get this type of ID. Of course, given the contrary nature Anarchopolites are known for, many eschew an ID for authentication purposes. As a result, letters of introduction have found a renewed popularity. In fact, they’ve become something of an art form, with many users creating unique papers used solely for this purpose; they also frequently include fancy calligraphic designs around the text. These features have the added benefit of keeping fraud down in this medium. Electronic verification, similar to 20th-century PGP-signed documents and other online transactions, is also very common.
Note that nothing would prevent an individual from thus acquiring several names, if one were to so choose. And indeed, if the purpose was not to defraud or harm anyone, does it really matter if an individual works as a computer analyst by the name of "Mason Jackson" by day, and is a stripper -- "Ticonderoga Dick" -- at an opium bar by night? By using various labels for different aspects of activities, an individual thus affords him- or herself more privacy than the one-size-constricts-all system most 20th century nations used. As a result, the word 'pseudonym' has all but vanished as Anarchopolites make use of these formerly "secret identities" to establish differing personae in various cultural circles.
Another function of ID is certification, which attests to: physical attributes, skills, or talents an individual possesses; accomplishments or achievements reached; or training successfully completed. Such IDs replaced many government-mandated licenses and diplomas. Certificates are widely used by private companies for a dizzying array of functions. One demonstrates a specific level of financial solvency without divulging details -- for example, having an account in good standing (a minimum of 500 grams of gold on reserve) at the First Free Bank of Anarchopolis. Another shows that an individual completed coursework in hair styling from Digby's Design House of Hair with at least a minimum level of competence.
Letters of recommendation are another type of certification. They've expanded beyond their 20th century uses, and are widely employed as a basis of credentialing individuals, or to attest to a level of skill worthy of a higher than usual fee for some good or service. Many companies collect letters of recommendation from satisfied customers regarding their employees' work, and allow potential customers to peruse them in order to find the employee who is best suited for the job they have. That's how Adam Beebe chose master artisan Oliver Hornsby of Architects International to renovate his family's Victorian house. Banks issue "credit credentials," which are based on an individual's or company's credit history with the bank, so that another individual or institution is satisfied that the entity in question is unlikely to default on a loan or other credit arrangement up to a certain amount.
The final broad function of ID is authorization -- specifying what an individual may do in a general or specific circumstance. Authorizations provide proof of "legitimacy," rather like a bond or surety guarantee. Think of it this way: this form of ID helps ensure that its bearer is entitled to some good or service (has paid for membership in a health club, for example), or may engage in some specific action (accessing funds in a bank account). Or it might demonstrate that you have a right to be in a particular location for a specific purpose, as many corporate employee IDs do.
The need for identification hasn't changed since the state was banished in Anarchopolis; nor has the types of identification that an individual may need. However, without the state in business, the sources of identification are more varied.
Sources of Trust
All of the previously described functions require some level of trust behind them -- whether in the individual bearing a document or the issuing entity creating a document. While private companies fill various roles in creating these documents, other means of generating trust are used as well. For example, an individual's use of a particular name in a given setting leads to a reputation being established under that name. As others come to know that name and individual, they may vouch for them under certain circumstances (as in letters of introduction or recommendation). Thus, trust is built up by a history of trusted individuals using and passing along the trusted information. This is the idea behind the signing of PGP keys, and has successfully extended far beyond that in Anarchopolis, both in the physical and digital worlds.
While such "distributed" sources of trust can be slower to generate confidence, once a level of trust has been reached its reliability is considered as good as -- if not better than -- more centralized sources of trust. This method harkens back to the old days of hand-shaking as an authentication or certification procedure, and is very much a person-to-person means of spreading or corroborating information.
More centralized sources of trust are legion in Anarchopolis, and, rather than try to cover them all here, let's simply look at some of the places where Anarchopolis residents can get identification that offers any amount of verification or trust along the continuum.
Sources of Identification
If an employer wants to restrict access to sensitive areas -- or even to the entire property -- the employer decides what kind of information is required (i.e., authentication or authorization), how to verify an individual's credentials and identity, and what form the ID is to take. If the company's needs can't be met inside the company, it contracts with an outside source for ID creation. None of this is new.
Another type of ID is one that is used for public purposes. No, Anarchopolis doesn’t have driver's licenses, or any similarly silly "identification" card. The term "ID" really doesn't describe all the functions these bits of information perform. A better term is "certificate," such as a diploma, or a seal, such as the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) seal found on electronics for years. Instead of having letter-salad government bureaus act as certifying authorities, private agencies like UL have proliferated, and do their job much better than the FDA, USDA, and EPA ever did.
A major element of the issuing agencies' success is the competitive nature of the business; each wants to have the highest safety margin, so each company works very hard to maintain the highest standards of testing or certification. Companies are free to choose which company (or companies) they use to certify their goods or services; issuing companies that don't maintain acceptable standards go out of business, as claims against them take away both profits and trust. Of course, a company may choose not to engage in certification testing. This means individuals are free to choose untested goods, and sometimes they do. Those that are worthwhile continue to do business, while those that don't tend to go out of business fairly soon as the "distributed" trust chain spreads the word.
One difference in these public-purpose IDs is that they aren't required of the individual, to prove identity to some jackboot on a power trip. They're a means of demonstrating some kind of legitimacy to a consumer, among other functions. An example of an individually-possessed certificate like this is the debit card. Issued by the individual's bank and paired with an "access code" (AC, formerly known as a "PIN"), they authorize the holder as someone entitled to access the funds in that account.
Since there’s no state, there are of course no state-issued IDs. Travel is much more free, with few communities requiring "passports" or similar ID. Countries which continue to function as the old nation-states did either accommodate Anarchopolites' lack of such documents, or don't permit such individuals entry into the country. Not too many free individuals are keen to go to such places, anyway. In other areas that have rejected totalitarianism and collectivism, letters of introduction and credit serve Anarchopolites just as well as they do at home.
If an individual wants an ID that attaches a specific label to her, she has several companies to choose from. IDs R Us is a national chain that has minimal requirements for such ID, and offers fast service and low prices. However, because it has minimal requirements, its safety record isn’t that great, and many firms do not place much trust in their IDs. The most successful current authentication ID issuer is Spooner's Identity Emporium. This company also has minimal requirements for low-level, name-only ID, but it takes the additional steps of verifying the ID-seeker's history under that name, as well as the reputation of those who vouch for the ID-seeker. The company publishes a monthly list on its web site -- usually a very short list, given its careful processing -- of individuals whose SID (for Spooner ID) has been revoked, along with the reason for revocation. Successful challenges to a SID revocation have been very few.
Of course, if an individual doesn't like the requirements of one company, she's free to use another company for her ID needs. Or, she’s free to go without such ID. Many citizens of Anarchopolis do not have an authentication ID card beyond what their employers might require. The use of precious metals as currency, and the proliferation of barter and barter rings (wherein individuals and companies can make direct and indirect trades of goods and services with a high level of trust) have virtually eliminated the need for checks and credit cards. Debit cards have remained popular, as carrying around a pocketful of silver or gold coin can get uncomfortable.
Similarly, most private firms have turned to companies like Spooner's Identity Emporium to handle their ID and certification needs. However, unlike the much-reviled Social Security Number, there are no links between individual databases. Having a SID and a Spooner-researched employer ID are entirely separate entities, and no computer hacker can determine anything beyond the basic SID check, if they're fortunate enough to get past the Gyrfalcon Privacy Guardians (GPG) security measures placed on the computer files.
The exception is financial institutions, which are reluctant to part with their customers' information after the Banking Revolt of 2112, which marked the beginning of the fall of totalitarian government. Having seen the general public's willingness to shed banker blood over matters of financial privacy, all financial transactions are automatically accorded high levels of privacy and security. Even requests for information from legitimate users (such as a bank customer seeking a loan at another bank) are carefully checked before being granted.
As has been suggested already, the appearance of these various forms of trust-giving information varies greatly. Sure, an Anarchopolite may get a Spooner ID with a photograph of him- or herself, but that kind of "ID" is largely used for gags or as favors at retro "TwenCen" parties. Technological developments have made electronic transactions -- from authentication to authorization -- commonplace, and more secure than the old Internet.
Much more common is the "smart card." A smart card is a small container of information; it can house several different identities (for authentication purposes), certificates, and authorizations. Best of all, technology has rendered the bland-looking, standard-issue card a thing of the past (this advance is known as 'de-ellisoning", which refers to the rejection of the omnipotent National ID). Individuals and companies can choose among a surprising array of materials to house their identification information, including biological material (fingernails are a common location, because they're quite durable and slow-growing). If two Anarchopolites' cards look the same, it's most likely a statistical coincidence. A plastic key chain may house ID chips, or perhaps they're in the pretty blue-green metal bracelet the lady wears. Or could they be in the scrap of paper she keeps tucked securely in her sidearm's holster? Is that simply a fashionable cap, or is the bill the gentleman's repository of identification and certification chips?
The only way to know is to test the items, generally by a "swipe" across an authentication reader. However, since these are essential features of each ID-issuing company's security and privacy measures, their distribution and use is carefully controlled. Other security procedures in place protect privacy by requiring a specific kind of reader, or that an authentication key signal be received, before the card will provide requested information. These are only the publicized aspects of security. Several others exist and are used in varying ways that help reduce unauthorized access to information on a chip, as well as fraudulent creation of chips and/or cards.
Of course, one isn’t required to keep all one’s sensitive information on a single smart card. The problems with "identity theft" make that an obviously poor security choice, one the old governments played right into. Anarchopolites can choose to do that if they wish; most prefer to disperse security information among a variety of resources, and often have backups too. And let's not forget the widespread use of letters of introduction and recommendation; they provide important information in a different format.
Identification is a key -- an important key that can unlock various pieces of a person's life. Through it come an individual's public identity (or identities), credentials, and the activities she or he may legitimately undertake in certain circumstances. While it doesn't play the large role that ID cards did in most 20th-century nation-states, Anarchopolis citizens understand well the problems inherent in the state’s approach to ID. Relying on birth certificates, which bore no information to directly link the holder to the person affirmed born at the time stated on the certificate, Social Security cards, which held nothing more than a name and a Social Security Number, and driver's licenses (containing -- or verified by -- the hated SSN) as the backbone of the entire nation's identification system was a farce doomed to fail.
Instead, trust is placed back at the heart of the authentication, certification, and authorization functions of whatever sort of ID is used. Individuals again take responsibility for much of their own needs, relying upon distributed trust systems such as vouching for another, letters of recommendation, and choosing which company to trust with certification testing of the products they consume. Their continued demand for solid information and service, coupled with the profits private companies can generate, have made ID services a very popular and competitive market sector. The harsh penalties that befall companies that can't maintain high standards of service for either individual or corporate information needs helps keep them striving to improve security measures and their general trustworthiness.
By transforming the ID industry into a free-market service, individuals get a wide choice of services, competitive prices, and more barriers between various elements of their private lives. Businesses get better ID services and security. Distributed trust systems offer an alternative means of gaining and verifying trust within a given culture or society. Although the forms of ID possible in the future are much more speculative than the examples given here -- nanotechnology alone offers vistas beyond many imaginations -- ID without Big Brother is a classic example of a free-market "win-win" scenario.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Carl Bussjaeger, Brad Felton, Jeff Jordan, Dale Stimson, and Don L. Tiggre for the thought-provoking discussions and ideas they have provided me on this subject.