Our take on Citizen Identity & Sign-on

Refusal_of_treatment_formI just read Cyd Harrell’s post on Citizen Experience Challenges: Identity & Sign-on, and its an issue that resonates with us as we build our platform.

Even with data-wrangling, we have a whole library of different “identities” as we wrangle data from different sources – both public and private.

In her post, she touched on the possibility of using a municipal implementation of social/single sign-on that really intrigued me.  When we designed NYCDataWell for the Reinvent Payphone Challenge, we asserted that Data is the New Utility.

Much the same way that a lot of the affordances of modern life that we now all take for granted – electricity, plumbing, public transportation – most of the civic infrastructure, was initially stood up on a municipal level.  And with NYC pioneering the way with the first municipal open data law, why not include identity management as a logical next step to address this challenge? As digital civic infrastructure.

And no! I’m not asking that our private data be released as Open Data. Rather, why not create a Municipal Open Identity standard?  A standard that can be implemented on a city-by-city basis to improve the citizen experience in a way Cyd described in her post?

And as with most authentication protocols now relying on government-issued ID, I can see quick adoption of such a standard in the private sector.  Extending Cyd’s example – if I want to make an appointment with the local dentist, or the body shop, they can retrieve some limited basic information relevant to the business I’m doing with them.  This “identity vault”, perhaps, can be maintained by the city as a utility, where I can manage who accesses it, what data they can access, and see analytics on how its used.

Even if its not used for third-party, private sector use, municipal identity should still be pursued.  At the very least, it will not only dramatically improve our citizen experiences, it will also make our city agencies more efficient, and I submit, Open Data even more powerful as these “municipal identities” can be used as de-facto URIs to link all kinds of entities (e.g. businesses, organizations, etc.) within the city.


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  1. Alternatively, it need not even be maintained in a centralized vault. With all the talk of the Internet of Things, perhaps, our “identity vaults” can truly be ours and live on our smartphones, similar to the on-chip “fingerprint enclave” on the iPhone 5s.
    And no, I’m not saying that you should let Apple manage your identity, I’m just saying that the vault is truly with you, in a physical sense, at all times.