Saturday, February 15, 2003

feeling rather enum

One single number to identify each of us, tying together our phone numbers, email addresses, web sites, fax numbers, and instant messaging addresses. That's the recommendation of the US Department of Commerce.

USA Today reports upon the standard that will allow this convergence of personal information in an article called Consumers could get one number for phone, faxes, Net access. Frankly, the idea leaves me feeling a bit numb. I'm not sure how different this idea is from the concept of a national ID, or the data mining proposed under the Total Information Awareness program sponsored by DARPA.

A couple of articles sum up nicely many of the concerns that I have about the ENUM standard. Roger Clarke's ENUM - A Case Study in Social Irresponsibility is a thoughtful, and thought provoking analysis of the proposed standard. His abstract:
ENUM is meant to provide a means of mapping from telephone numbers to IP-addresses: "today, many addresses; with ENUM, only one", as its proponents express it.

Any such capability would be extremely dangerous, providing governments, corporations, and even individuals, with the ability to locate and to track other people, both in network space, and in physical space. The beneficiaries would be the powerful who seek to manipulate the behaviour of others. It would do immense social, sociological and democratic harm.

The astounding thing is that the engineers responsible for it are still adopting the naïve position that its impact and implications are someone else's problem. With converged computing-and-communications technologies becoming ever more powerful and ever more pervasive, engineers have to be shaken out of their cosy cocoon, and forced to confront the implications, along with the technology and its applications.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) also takes a hard cold look at ENUM, and their analysis of the privacy protection controls in the standard is equally as harsh as Roger Clarke's.

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