Identity On The Internet

An interesting case of identity cloning has been covered by the media today. A gang had created an entire internet-based enterprise for collecting information on wealthy individuals whose profiles were then used by ‘clients’ to gain access to financial services. The entire set-up of this enterprise simulated the structures of legitimate companies including a marketplace and even a call centre for client support. Cases like this proliferate in the media creating a constant sentiment of unease to all users of on-line services. There are reasons for this.

The growing reliance of advanced societies on the internet for activities pertaining to every aspect of life creates a new source of potential threats that necessitates governance on behalf of the state. Original conceptions of the internet did not foresee its use for fraudulent and criminal activities. It was primarily seen as a forum of free expression. However, as more people incorporate the net into their everyday practices, the amount of personal information disclosed becomes a potentially explosive social problem. Large amounts of data are up for grabs for anyone interested. Current conceptions of privacy cannot accommodate the new on-line practices while the value of available information continually increases. Thus far, the discussion on regulating the internet did not recast existing conceptions of privacy in digital environments.

The proliferation of news on identity thefts serves as a reminder of the situation. It creates a sentiment of insecurity that makes users more susceptible to the regimentation of internet monitoring as a necessary concession for more security. Especially, the presentation of cases where criminals are more technological savvy then the average internet user gradually weakens arguments on self-regulation and protection. Finally, the discourse recasts issues of security beyond the dichotomy of security/liberty. Can users cope in an environment where protection is becoming a matter of specialist knowledge? Which are their options? These questions beg for further consideration by all of us in order to have a more informed opinion of both villains and heroes.