23 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2003
This essay argues that the decline of public identities over the past three decades, combined with increasing secrecy in the process of identification, is the root cause of the burgeoning problem of identity theft. Identity theft is easy because impersonation increasingly takes place in private transactions that are invisible to the victim. The essay compares two proposed solutions: Professor Daniel Soloves' architectural approach and the author's Public Identity System. Both would make the identification process transparent to the person identified, put imposters at risk by requiring personal appearances, and ban the use of social security numbers as passwords. But the two writers take opposing positions with respect to continued secrecy of the information used to identify consumers. Solove would maintain the link between identification information (name and social security number) and personal information (information descriptive of the consumer or the consumer's circumstances) and seek to impose better security to keep all of it from thieves. The author would sever the link between the two kinds of information, make identification information - which is harmless - public, and allow consumers to use it to create public, thief-proof identities. The essay explains the operation of the Public Identity System the author proposed in Human Identification Theory and the Identity Theft Problem, 80 Texas Law Review 89 (2001) and addresses Solove's objections related to the public display of social security numbers, consumer profiling, stalking, marketing abuse, and other aspects of the proposed System.
Keywords: identity theft, privacy, human identification, Solove, Public Identity System, social security numbers, public identity, Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit reporting system, credit reporting agencies, identification, password, stalking, credit files
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