Both in the UK and the US there is an important societal agenda in relation to identity management technologies, services and practices (IM-TSP), set against a background of civil liberties. Citizens regularly express concern about the amount of personal information that is held electronically and that is available to benign and malign organisations. There are, for instance, public anxieties around biometric identification, the introduction of strong border security initiatives and the risks of identity theft. Such fears are typically heightened by media reactions to, among other things, the loss of publicly held personal data records or terrorist threats. Against this backdrop, in contrast, there is a growing appetite for identity sharing through social networks, customer profiling and collaborative filtering and various loyalty schemes.

In this project, we seek a better understanding of such anxieties and appetites, by examining identity management taboos and desires and their culturally situated causes and effects. Our challenge is to understand the way that citizens in the UK and the US will respond to new IM-TSP, and to promote trustworthy and pleasurable processes of identity verification across contexts and communities, providing win-win situations for the civic, commercial government and security sectors.

Our overall question is: What will influence UK and US publics to engage and/or disengage with identity management practices, services and technologies of the future?

The technologies, services and practices of identity management are in a state of rapid and somewhat unpredictable flux. To examine public perceptions and responses in this field, it is necessary to take a forward looking approach. Research about the current state of IM-TPS runs the risk of being obsolete by the time it is ready for implementation and publication. We will therefore use scenarios for the future as they have been presented in research, film, literature, consumer trend reports, policy reports and security exploration as our first core of data, and use these to map an expected landscape of IM-TPS. The research then proceeds in the following phases:

  1. Identify the most plausible scenarios and represent them in the form of written and visual narratives, online avatars and off-line artefacts that will function as stimuli in the research with individuals, and civil society, government, commercial and security actors, taking into account the different contexts and sensitivities in the UK and US.
  2. Elicit responses to these scenarios from UK and US based individual and collective actors in the four mentioned sectors, using a range of traditional and innovative quantitative and qualitative methods of data gathering, including deliberative polling; q-sorts; peer-to-peer and intergenerational group research; interactive pop up installations and simulation games.
  3. Analyse the responses to provide an a multilevel account of underlying individual, political, social and cultural reasons for the different publics’ desires and taboos.
  4. Represent the outcomes of the research in a grid of taboos and desires that locates opportunities for civic, government, commercial and security actors.
  5. In the process, create artefacts and methodologies that will enable the various stakeholders to interact with the public and take their concerns into account in the development, production and implementation of IM-TPS.

The project involves a UK-US collaboration and will be managed from Loughborough University, UK. It will progress in ongoing interaction with academic advisors and stakeholders from the four sectors, represented in two different ‘boards’.

Project Details

September 2011 – November 2014
EPSRC (EP/J005037/1 )
Funded value:
  • Liesbet Van Zoonen, Loughborough University (Principal Investigator)
  • Pam Briggs, Northumbria University (Co-Investigator)
  • Aletta Norval, University of Essex (Co-Investigator)
  • Sandra Wilson, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)