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The Future of Identity

January 22, 2013


What makes up your identity?A new report has been published by the UK Government that looks at the Future of Identity over the next ten years.

Sponsored by the Home Office and published by Sir John Beddington, the Head of the Government Office for Science, the Foresight Future Identities (2013) report shows that ‘identity’ is not a simple notion. People can have many different overlapping identities which are fundamental to their individuality.

The report identifies three overlapping types of identities, which are broadly distinguished as social, biographical and biometric, which it defines as:

  • Social identities are generated through roles and relationships between people, and the wider social and cultural context. These include identities which are socially mediated, such as family relationships, friendships, membership of communities, and attachment to particular places.
  • Biographical identities are more ‘standalone’ identities which individuals might use to describe themselves to another or how they perceive themselves. These might include national identity, as well as ethnicity and religion – although these also have a strong social role. Identities such as a professional role or financial status might also be considered biographical identities.
  • Biometric identities are those aspects of identity related to the body, including unique characteristics such as DNA, fingerprints, irises and faces, which can be used as a means of authentication to verify that people are who they say they are.

Unfortunately, and somewhat inexplicably, biometric identities were said to be beyond the scope of the report, but it does make very interesting reading nonetheless – and is underpinned by a very extensive reading list of identity papers.

In particular the report found that hyper-connectivity is driving social change and expectations, while bring together people in new ways. By 2011 there were more than seven billion devices connected to the internet and predictions of 15 billion by 2015. Meanwhile 60% of internet users in the UK are members of a social networking site compared with just 17% in 2007. The internet allows people to document any aspect of their lives, creating a wealth of personal data which can be mined for insights by the private sector and by government. This means that people’s online identities have a value in a way that is new, say the report authors.

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