• United States

Identity theft coalition raises more questions than answers

Sep 17, 20033 mins
Access ControlEnterprise Applications

* What is the real goal of the Coalition on Identity Theft?

Last week I warned you about how “identity theft” would become a buzzword for the news media. But evidently it isn’t only the media that hopes to exploit the issue as a number of so-called “technology companies” are now beating the “identity theft” drum.

Recently, these companies formed the Coalition on Online Identity Theft. Among the founders are actual technology companies (Microsoft, VeriSign, RSA) along with what I refer to as so-called technology companies –, eBay, etc. – retailers and consumer marketers that have an online presence but don’t actually contribute to technology (no matter how many patents they hold). Also participating are fully-acknowledged consumer-oriented business such as Visa International.

Reading the various press releases and “news” stories about the new group is interesting for what’s implied, what’s not said and what can be read into the motives of the founders. What’s implied is that identity theft is the biggest problem technology faces today. Evidently, viruses, denial-of-service attacks, spam, worms and other destructive acts pale in comparison. On a personal basis, that’s true, but in the aggregate it’s like a homeowner putting all her worry into earthquakes while the termites are feasting around her.

Let’s look at the four main areas the group has identified as its goals in an attempt to see what’s really behind this action.

First, the group wants to “expand public education campaigns against online identity theft to protect consumers.” Literally, that means it wants to tell you that identity theft is bad. I think it means that it wants to assure consumers that buying online is still OK.

Next, the coalition wants to “help promote technology and self-help approaches for preventing and dealing with online identity theft.” In other words, it will tell consumers that products from VeriSign and RSA should be bought to help combat identity theft.

Third, the concerned companies wish to “document and share non-personal information about emerging online fraudulent activity to stay ahead of criminals and new forms of online fraud.” The only “personal information” I can think of concerning online fraudulent activity is the name of the criminal. Please could the coalition share that with us.

Last, though, we get to the real nub of the issue: These folks want to “work with government to cultivate an environment that protects consumers and businesses, and ensures effective enforcement and criminal penalties against cyber thieves.” In other words, the group wishes to encourage the government to expand time and effort to make the ‘Net safe for the likes of Amazon and eBay to continue raking in profits. This tells me that it’s a lobbying group, pure and simple.

For anyone thinking of joining the coalition, think twice. Consider all the agendas already laid out, consider the type of people you’ll be joining with and consider what’s the right route to take ethically and morally. After all that, if you still believe that you need an effective lobbying group in Washington and other world capitals, then do join and help to make it one. But please, don’t send out press releases telling me that identity theft is the biggest problem to face the world since the black plague or that the coalition is the shiny knight come to slay the dragon. If you are consistently honest with people, then over the course of time they will come to trust you. And that’s as close to an eternal truth as I’m likely to get in this newsletter.