David Birch: A new way to stop identity theft

Recorded atApril 27, 2012
Duration (min:sec)16:50
Video TypeTEDx Talk
Words per minute250.18 very fast
Readability (FK)67.6 very easy
SpeakerDavid Birch
Descriptiondigital money and identity consultant; TED speaker

Official TED page for this talk


Bartenders need to know your age, retailers need your PIN, but almost no one actually needs your name -- except for identity thieves. ID expert David Birch proposes a safer approach to personal identification -- a "fractured" approach -- that would almost never require your real name.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:13 So I thought I'd talk about identity.
200:15 That's sort of an interesting enough topic to me.
300:18 And the reason was, because when I was asked to do this,
400:21 I'd just read in one of the papers, I can't remember,
500:25 something from someone at Facebook saying,
600:27 "Well, we need to make everybody use their real names,
700:30 and then that's basically all the problems solved."
800:33 And that's so wrong,
900:34 that's such a fundamentally reactionary view of identity,
1000:38 and it's going to get us into all sorts of trouble.
1100:40 And so what I thought I'd do is,
1200:42 I'll explain four sort of problems about it,
1300:46 and then I'll suggest a solution,
1400:48 which, hopefully, you might find interesting.
1500:50 So just to frame the problem:
1600:51 What does "authenticity" mean?
1700:53 That's me,
1800:55 that's a camera phone picture of me looking at a painting.
1900:59 [What's the Problem?]
2001:01 That's a painting that was painted by a very famous forger,
2101:03 and because I'm not very good at presentations,
2201:06 I already can't remember the name that I wrote on my card.
2301:08 And he was incarcerated in, I think, Wakefield Prison,
2401:12 for forging masterpieces by, I think, French Impressionists.
2501:16 And he's so good at it that when he was in prison,
2601:19 everybody in prison, the governor and whatever,
2701:21 wanted him to paint masterpieces to put on the walls
2801:23 because they were so good.
2901:25 And so that's a masterpiece, which is a fake of a masterpiece,
3001:28 and bonded into the canvas is a chip which identifies that as a real fake,
3101:35 if you see what I mean.
3201:36 (Laughter)
3301:37 So when we're talking about authenticity,
3401:39 it's a little more fractal than it appears,
3501:41 and that's a good example to show it.
3601:44 I tried to pick four problems that will frame the issue properly.
3701:49 So the first problem, I thought, chip and PIN, right?
3801:51 [Banks and legacies bringing down the system from within]
3901:54 [Offline solutions do not work online]
4001:56 Everyone's got a chip and PIN card, right?
4101:58 So why is that a good example?
4202:00 That's the example of how legacy thinking about identity
4302:02 subverts the security of a well-constructed system.
4402:05 That chip-and-PIN card that's in your pocket
4502:08 has a little chip on it that cost millions of pounds to develop,
4602:11 is extremely secure,
4702:13 you can put scanning electron microscopes on it,
4802:15 you can try and grind it down, blah blah blah.
4902:17 Those chips have never been broken, whatever you read in the paper.
5002:21 And for a joke, we take that supersecure chip,
5102:24 and we bond it to a trivially counterfeitable magnetic stripe.
5202:28 And for very lazy criminals, we still emboss the card.
5302:31 So if you're a criminal in a hurry and you need to copy someone's card,
5402:35 you can just stick a piece of paper on it and rub a pencil over it
5502:38 just to speed things up.
5602:39 And even more amusingly, and on my debit card, too,
5702:42 we print the name and the sort code and everything else on the front.
5802:45 Why?
5902:47 There is no earthly reason why your name is printed on a chip-and-PIN card.
6002:51 And if you think about it,
6102:53 it's even more insidious and perverse than it seems at first.
6202:56 Because the only people that benefit from having the name on the card
6303:00 are criminals.
6403:01 You know what your name is, right?
6503:03 (Laughter)
6603:04 And when you go into a shop and buy something,
6703:06 it's a PIN -- he doesn't care what the name is.
6803:08 The only place you ever have to write your name on the back
6903:11 is in America.
7003:12 Whenever I go to America,
7103:14 and I have to pay with a magstripe on the back of the card,
7203:17 I always sign it "Carlos Tethers" anyway, just as a security mechanism,
7303:20 because if a transaction ever gets disputed,
7403:22 and it comes back and it says "Dave Birch,"
7503:24 I know it must have been a criminal,
7603:26 because I would never sign it "Dave Birch."
7703:28 (Laughter)
7803:29 So if you drop your card in the street,
7903:31 it means a criminal can pick it up and read it.
8003:34 They know the name, from the name, they can find the address,
8103:37 and then they can go off and buy stuff online.
8203:39 Why do we put the name on the card?
8303:40 Because we think identity is something to do with names,
8403:44 and because we're rooted in the idea of the identity card,
8503:48 which obsesses us.
8603:49 And I know it crashed and burned a couple of years ago,
8703:52 but if you're someone in politics or the Home Office or whatever,
8803:56 and you think about identity,
8903:57 you can only think of identity in terms of cards with names on.
9004:01 And that's very subversive in a modern world.
9104:04 So the second example I thought I'd use
9204:06 is chat rooms.
9304:08 [Chatrooms and Children]
9404:09 I'm very proud of that picture.
9504:11 That's my son playing in his band with his friends
9604:13 for the first-ever gig, I believe you call it, where he got paid.
9704:17 (Laughter)
9804:18 And I love that picture.
9904:20 I'll like the picture of him getting into medical school a lot better,
10004:23 (Laughter)
10104:24 I like that one for the moment.
10204:26 Why do I use that picture?
10304:27 Because that was very interesting, watching that experience as an old person.
10404:32 So him and his friends,
10504:33 they get together, they booked a room, like a church hall,
10604:36 and they got all their friends who had bands, got them together,
10704:39 and they do it all on Facebook,
10804:41 and then they sell tickets, and the first band on the --
10904:44 I was going to say "menu," that's probably the wrong word for it, isn't it?
11004:48 The first band on the list of bands
11104:50 that appears at some public music performance of some kind
11204:54 gets the sales from the first 20 tickets,
11304:56 then the next band gets the next 20,
11404:58 and so on.
11504:59 They were at the bottom of the menu, like, fifth,
11605:01 I thought they had no chance.
11705:03 He actually got 20 quid. Fantastic, right?
11805:05 But my point is, that all worked perfectly,
11905:07 except on the web.
12005:09 So they're sitting on Facebook,
12105:12 and they're sending these messages and arranging things,
12205:15 and they don't know who anybody is, right?
12305:17 That's the problem we're trying to solve.
12405:19 If only they were using real names,
12505:21 then you wouldn't be worried about them on the internet.
12605:23 So when he says to me,
12705:25 "Oh, I want to go to a chat room to talk about guitars" or something,
12805:29 I'm like, "Oh, well, I don't want you to go into a chat room
12905:32 to talk about guitars,
13005:34 because they might not all be your friends,
13105:36 and some of the people that are in the chat room
13205:38 might be, you know, perverts and teachers and vicars --"
13305:41 (Laughter)
13405:43 I mean, they generally are, when you look in the paper, right?
13505:46 "So I want to know who all the people in the chat room are.
13605:49 So, OK, you can go in the chat room,
13705:51 but only if everybody in the chat room is using their real names,
13805:54 and they submit full copies of their police report."
13905:57 (Laughter)
14005:58 But of course, if anybody in the chat room asked for his real name,
14106:02 I'd say, "No. You can't give them your real name,
14206:04 because what happens if they turn out to be perverts
14306:07 and teachers and whatever?"
14406:09 So you have this odd sort of paradox
14506:11 where I'm happy for him to go into this space
14606:13 if I know who everybody else is,
14706:15 but I don't want anybody else to know who he is.
14806:17 And so you get this sort of logjam around identity,
14906:20 where you want full disclosure from everybody else,
15006:22 but not from yourself.
15106:23 And there's no progress, we get stuck.
15206:25 So the chat room thing doesn't work properly,
15306:27 and it's a very bad way of thinking about identity.
15406:30 Cheerleading ... so, on my RSS feed, I saw this thing about --
15506:34 I just said something bad about my RSS feed, didn't I?
15606:37 I should stop saying it like that.
15706:39 For some random reason I can't imagine,
15806:40 something about cheerleaders turned up in my in-box.
15906:43 And I read this story about cheerleaders, and it's a fascinating story.
16006:46 This happened a couple of years ago in the US.
16106:48 There were some cheerleaders in a team at a high school in the US,
16206:52 and they said mean things about their cheerleading coach,
16306:55 as I'm sure kids do about all of their teachers all of the time,
16406:58 and somehow, the cheerleading coach found out about this.
16507:01 She was very upset.
16607:02 So she went to one of the girls and said,
16707:04 "You have to give me your Facebook password."
16807:06 I read this all the time,
16907:08 where even at some universities and places of education,
17007:10 kids are forced to hand over their Facebook passwords.
17107:13 So you have to give them your Facebook password.
17207:15 So the kid -- she was a kid! -- what she should have said is,
17307:18 "My lawyer will be calling you first thing in the morning.
17407:21 It's an outrageous imposition on my Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
17507:24 You'll be sued for all the money you've got!"
17607:26 That's what she should have said.
17707:28 But she's a kid, so she hands over the password.
17807:30 The teacher can't log in,
17907:32 because the school has blocked access to Facebook.
18007:34 So the teacher can't log into Facebook till she gets home.
18107:37 So the girl tells her friends,
18207:38 "Guess what happened? The teacher logged in. She knows."
18307:41 So the girls all logged into Facebook and deleted their profiles.
18407:44 So when the teacher logged in, there was nothing there.
18507:47 My point is: those identities, they don't think about them the same way.
18607:51 Identity is -- especially when you're a teenager -- a fluid thing.
18707:55 You have lots of identities, you experiment with them.
18807:57 And if you have an identity you don't like because it's subverted in some way
18908:01 or it's insecure or it's inappropriate,
19008:03 you just delete it and get another one.
19108:05 The idea that you have an identity that's given to you by someone,
19208:08 the government or whatever,
19308:09 and you have to stick with that identity and use it in all places
19408:12 is absolutely wrong.
19508:14 Why would you want to really know who someone was on Facebook,
19608:17 unless you wanted to abuse them and harass them in some way?
19708:19 It just doesn't work properly.
19808:21 And my fourth example is,
19908:23 there are some cases where you really want to be --
20008:26 in case you're wondering, that's me at the G20 protest.
20108:30 I wasn't actually at the G20 protest,
20208:31 but I had a meeting at a bank on the day of the G20 protest.
20308:35 And I got an email from the bank, saying,
20408:37 "Please don't wear a suit, because it'll inflame the protesters."
20508:41 I look pretty good in a suit, frankly,
20608:43 so you can see why it would drive them into an anticapitalist frenzy.
20708:46 (Laughter)
20808:47 So I thought, "Well, if I don't want to inflame the protesters,
20908:51 the obvious thing to do is go dressed as a protester."
21008:53 So I went dressed completely in black, you know, black balaclava ...
21108:57 I had black gloves on but took them off to sign the visitors' book.
21209:00 (Laughter)
21309:01 I'm wearing black trousers and boots, I'm dressed completely in black.
21409:04 I go into the bank at 10am and go, "Hi, I'm Dave Birch,
21509:07 I've got a 3 o'clock with so-and-so."
21609:09 "Sure!" And they sign me in. There's my visitor's badge.
21709:11 (Laughter)
21809:12 So this nonsense about "you've got to have real names on Facebook" and whatever,
21909:16 that gets you that kind of security.
22009:18 That gets you "security theater,"
22109:20 where there's no actual security,
22209:22 but people are sort of playing parts in a play about security,
22309:26 and as long as everybody learns their lines,
22409:28 everyone's happy.
22509:29 But it's not real security, right?
22609:32 Especially because I hate banks more than the G20 protesters do,
22709:35 because I work for them.
22809:36 I know that things are actually worse than these guys think.
22909:39 (Laughter)
23009:42 But suppose I worked next to somebody in a bank
23109:47 who was doing something --
23209:48 you know, they were like people who take the money from banks and don't ...
23309:53 you know, they take the money ...
23409:55 Oh -- "traders." That's the word I was thinking of.
23509:57 Suppose I was sitting next to a rogue trader,
23609:59 and I want to report it to the boss of the bank.
23710:01 So I log on to do a little whistleblowing.
23810:03 I send a message, "This guy's a rogue trader."
23910:06 That message is meaningless
24010:07 if you don't know that I'm a trader at the bank.
24110:10 If that message just comes from anybody,
24210:12 it has zero information value.
24310:14 There's no point in sending that message.
24410:16 You have to know that I'm ...
24510:18 But if I have to prove who I am,
24610:21 I'll never send that message.
24710:23 It's just like the nurse in the hospital reporting the drunk surgeon.
24810:26 That message will only happen if I'm anonymous.
24910:29 So the system has to have ways of providing anonymity in it,
25010:34 otherwise, we don't get where we want to get to.
25110:36 So, four issues.
25210:38 So what are we going to do about it?
25310:40 Well, what we tend to do about it
25410:44 is we think about Orwell-space.
25510:46 And we try to make electronic versions of the identity card
25610:50 that we got rid of in 1953.
25710:52 So we think if we had a card --
25810:54 call it a Facebook login --
25910:56 which proves who you are,
26010:57 and I make you carry it all the time,
26110:59 that solves the problem.
26211:00 And of course, for all those reasons I've just outlined, it doesn't,
26311:03 and it might make some problems worse.
26411:05 The more times you're forced to use your real identity,
26511:08 certainly in transactional terms,
26611:09 the more likely that identity is to get stolen and subverted.
26711:12 The goal is to stop people from using identity
26811:14 in transactions which don't need identity,
26911:16 which is actually almost all transactions.
27011:19 Almost all of the transactions you do are not "Who are you?"
27111:23 They're "Are you allowed to drive the car?"
27211:25 "Are you allowed in the building?" "Are you over 18?"
27311:27 etcetera, etcetera.
27411:29 So my suggestion -- I, like James,
27511:31 think that there should be a resurgence of interest in R and D.
27611:34 I think this is a solvable problem.
27711:36 It's something we can do about.
27811:37 Naturally, in these circumstances, I turn to Doctor Who.
27911:40 Because in this --
28011:42 (Laughter)
28111:43 as in so many other walks of life,
28211:44 Doctor Who has already shown us the answer.
28311:47 So I should say, for some of our foreign visitors:
28411:50 Doctor Who is the greatest living scientist in England --
28511:54 (Laughter)
28611:56 and a beacon of truth and enlightenment to all of us.
28711:58 And this is Doctor Who with his "psychic paper."
28812:01 Come on, you guys must have seen Doctor Who's "psychic paper."
28912:04 You're not nerds if you say yes.
29012:06 Who's seen Doctor Who's psychic paper?
29112:09 Oh right, you were in the library the whole time studying, I guess.
29212:12 Is that what you're going to tell us?
29312:14 Doctor Who's psychic paper is:
29412:15 when you hold up the psychic paper,
29512:17 the person, in their brain,
29612:18 sees the thing that they need to see.
29712:20 So I want to show you a British passport,
29812:23 I hold up the psychic paper,
29912:24 you see a British passport.
30012:26 I want to get into a party,
30112:27 I hold up the psychic paper,
30212:29 I show you a party invitation.
30312:30 You see what you want to see.
30412:32 So what I'm saying is, we need to make an electronic version of that,
30512:35 but with one tiny, tiny change,
30612:38 which is that it'll only show you the British passport
30712:40 if I've actually got one.
30812:41 It'll only show you the party invitation if I actually have one.
30912:44 It will only show you that I'm over 18 if I actually am over 18.
31012:48 But nothing else.
31112:49 So you're the bouncer at the pub, you need to know that I'm over 18.
31212:54 Instead of showing you my driving license,
31312:56 which shows you I know how to drive,
31412:58 what my name is, my address, all these kind of things,
31513:01 I show you my psychic paper,
31613:02 and all it tells you is, am I over 18 or not.
31713:06 Right.
31813:07 Is that just a pipe dream?
31913:08 Of course not, otherwise I wouldn't be here talking.
32013:11 So, in order to build that and make it work,
32113:13 I'm only going to name these things, I'll not go into them:
32213:16 we need a plan,
32313:17 which is, we're going to build this as an infrastructure
32413:20 for everybody to use to solve all of these problems.
32513:22 We're going to make a utility.
32613:24 The utility has to be universal, you can use it everywhere.
32713:27 I'm just giving you little flashes of the technology as we go along.
32813:30 That's a Japanese ATM,
32913:31 the fingerprint template is stored inside the mobile phone.
33013:34 So when you want to draw money out,
33113:36 you put the phone on the ATM and touch your finger,
33213:38 your fingerprint goes through to the phone,
33313:40 the phone says, "Yes, that's whoever,"
33413:42 and the ATM then gives you some money.
33513:44 It has to be a utility that you can use everywhere.
33613:47 It has to be absolutely convenient.
33713:49 That's me going into the pub.
33813:52 All the device on the door of the pub is allowed is:
33913:55 Is this person over 18 and not barred from the pub?
34013:59 And so the idea is, you touch your ID card to the door,
34114:02 and if I'm allowed in, it shows my picture,
34214:04 if I'm not, it shows a red cross.
34314:05 It doesn't disclose any other information.
34414:08 It has to have no special gadgets.
34514:09 That can only mean one thing, following on from Ross's statement,
34614:12 which I agree with completely: if it means no special gadgets,
34714:15 it has to run on a mobile phone.
34814:17 That's the only choice we have, to make it work on mobile phones.
34914:20 There are 6.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions.
35014:22 My favorite statistic of all time: only 4 billion toothbrushes in the world.
35114:26 That means something. I don't know what.
35214:28 (Laughter)
35314:29 I rely on our futurologists to tell me.
35414:31 It has to be a utility which is extensible.
35514:33 So it has to be something that anybody could build on.
35614:36 Anybody should be able to use this infrastructure;
35714:38 you don't need permissions, licenses, whatever.
35814:40 Anyone should be able to write some code to do this.
35914:45 Well, you know what symmetry is, so you don't need a picture of it.
36014:48 This is how we're going to do it.
36114:50 We're going to do it using phones and mobile proximity.
36214:52 I'm going to suggest to you
36314:54 the technology to implement Doctor Who's psychic paper is already here,
36414:57 and if any of you have got one of the new Barclay's debit cards
36515:00 with the contactless interface on it,
36615:02 you've already got that technology.
36715:04 Have you ever been up to the big city and used an Oyster card?
36815:07 Does that ring a bell?
36915:09 The technology already exists.
37015:10 The first phones that have the technology built in --
37115:12 the Google Nexus, the S II, the Samsung Wave 578 --
37215:15 the first phones that have the technology built into them are already in the shops.
37315:19 So the idea that the gasman can turn up at my mum's door,
37415:22 and he can show my mum his phone,
37515:24 and she can tap it with her phone,
37615:26 and it'll come up with green if he really is from British Gas
37715:29 and allowed in,
37815:30 and will come up with red if he isn't, end of story.
37915:32 We have the technology to do that.
38015:34 And what's more,
38115:35 although some of those things sound a bit counterintuitive,
38215:38 like proving I'm over 18 without proving who I am,
38315:40 the cryptography to do that not only exists,
38415:42 it's extremely well-known and well-understood.
38515:44 Digital signatures, the blinding of public key certificates --
38615:47 these technologies have been around for a while,
38715:50 we've just had no way of packaging them up.
38815:52 So the technology already exists.
38915:53 We know it works.
39015:57 There are a few examples of the technology being used
39115:59 in experimental places.
39216:00 That's London Fashion Week,
39316:02 where we built a system with O2.
39416:04 That's for the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park.
39516:06 You can see the person's walking in with their VIP band,
39616:09 it's being checked by the Nokia phone that's reading the band.
39716:12 I'm only putting those up to show you these things are prosaic,
39816:15 this stuff works in these environments.
39916:17 They don't need to be special.
40016:18 So finally, I know that you can do this,
40116:24 because if you saw the Easter special of Doctor Who,
40216:28 where he went to Mars in a bus --
40316:32 I should say, again, for our foreign students:
40416:34 that doesn't happen in every episode.
40516:36 This was a very special case.
40616:37 So in the episode where he goes to Mars in a London bus --
40716:40 I can't show you the clip,
40816:42 due to the outrageous restrictions of Queen Anne-style copyright
40916:45 by the BBC --
41016:46 but in the episode where he goes to Mars in a London bus,
41116:49 Doctor Who is clearly shown getting onto the bus
41216:53 with the Oyster card reader
41316:54 using his psychic paper.
41416:56 Which proves that psychic paper has an NFC interface.
41516:59 Thank you very much.
41617:01 (Applause)