The Top 10 Hot Identity Topics: A Smart Card Alliance Identity Council White Paper

An in-depth report on issues affecting identity management and protection

·         Describing both the institutional mechanisms and the individual actions that can keep an individual’s personal identity information private.

·         Defining what information constitutes an identity and how systems should be designed to put individuals in control of their private information.

·         Assessing how governments respond to new technologies that can provide solutions to identity challenges.

·         Analyzing the challenges posed by breeder documents and discussing potential solutions that could lead to more accurate proofing of an individual’s identity.

·         Discussing how a secure identity can be created and used throughout the identity life cycle.

·         Defining the different types of identity credentials and offering guidance on key considerations for using a credential for multiple applications.

·         Describing how new technologies are being used to verify an individual’s identity in the online world.

·         Defining how biometric technology is used in identity systems to bind an individual to an identity credential and verification event.

Secure, trusted identity systems will result only if policy, process, and technology issues are considered when new systems are being designed. The Identity Council’s goal is to provide guidance on important identity issues, thereby helping policy-makers and implementing organizations understand how smart card and related technologies can best be applied to deliver the benefits of secure identity. 

The Identity Council welcomes input from government, businesses, and the public. For additional information about Council activities, please visit


Introduction: Why Is Identity an Emotional Topic?

Many studies have attempted to define what a person’s identity is. Some consider identity to be part of an individual’s personality; others consider identity to be the characteristic that defines individuality and distinguishes one individual from another. This paper defines identity as the distinguishing characteristics that determine unequivocally that a person is who that person claims to be. 

Human beings classify their surroundings by assigning names to the components of those surroundings. Everything has a name and everybody has a name. Naming is our way of ordering our world so that we can correctly address something or somebody. Knowing a person’s name allows us to associate an identity with them, which in turn allows us to recognize whom we are dealing with and tell them apart from others.

Although people may want to maintain public anonymity, such anonymity is difficult to achieve. It is nearly impossible to maintain anonymity and operate in modern society. Birth certificates record our entry into society; Social Security numbers identify us to our government. We have passports to attest to our identity and citizenship; we have driver’s licenses to show that we are considered competent to operate a motor vehicle. Each of these identity documents conveys our claimed identity to society for a specific purpose. Collectively, these documents form a series of reference points that attest to our identity. When we desire to achieve some form of anonymity, we use “personas” to represent us to a community where we wish to be less identifiable. For example, many people use personas on the Internet. By creating a “handle” or username in a web community, we can be invisible or not identifiable to some degree. Ultimately, however, the same individual is behind a real-world identity and the persona that the individual uses. Personas are simply a projection of a pseudo-identity masking the individual’s actual identity. In many cases a persona may not be deemed sufficient identification to undertake activities such as financial transactions and therefore have limited use.