Manage Your Own Identity Online

Computer users’ identity information is managed online today by several different data collection agencies. But imagine the freedom people would feel changing their address with one keystroke?

Microsoft is working on such technology with its InfoCard identity metasystem. Now IBM, Novell and startup Parity Communications are joining the Eclipse open software foundation and Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society to tackle the challenge.

The three companies and are contributing code to the Higgins Project,” designed to give people more control over their online identity information.

Under the aegis of the Eclipse open source foundation, consumers could use the software to manage their own bank account and credit card numbers online, a departure from the way institutions manage that information, said Raj Nagaratnam, chief architect for identity management at IBM.

“Much of the personal information is held by organizations on the enterprise side,” Nagaratnam said. “Consumers can opt in to work with them, but if they give up that information, they don’t have much control.”

Software from Higgins will let people decide what information they want shared with online Web sites that use the software, the programmer said.

Higgins breaks up a person’s identity into specific Web services, letting computer users dictate who can access what parts of their identity information, within certain privacy guidelines and laws.

For consumers, Higgins will make it possible for patients to delegate who can see what info in their medical records. Consumers might also change their home address, or alter passwords across online banking and brokerage accounts.

Enterprises could leverage this software by enabling information to be shared securely across networks.

It’s fair to think of Higgins as an open source alternative to Microsoft’s InfoCard, which Bill Gates touted earlier this month at the RSA Security Show.

But unlike InfoCard, which will work with Microsoft Windows software, Higgins will support any identity management system and any computer running Linux, Windows or any operating system.

Other technology companies are expected to participate in Higgins, which was started at Eclipse as a collaboration led by at Harvard’s Berkman Center.

IBM plans to support Higgins with additions to its commercial Tivoli identity management software next year.

Tivoli makes several security products, including Tivoli Access Manager and Tivoli Identity Manager. Next week, IBM will begin selling Tivoli Identity Manager Express for the mid-sized business.

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