Bringing a different perspective on board

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What’s the .nl-registry got to do with IDnext? Why would SIDN be interested in digital identities? To me, this is a no-brainer, but in the IDnext community it often triggers intriguing questions.

Being responsible for the functional stability and development of the Netherlands' country-code domain, SIDN plays an important role in the core functioning of the Internet. Very important, but hardly visible.

Compare this to cars: we’re not talking under the hood, we’re talking pavement. Cars can be sexy, engines and components may be sexy, but concrete, pavement or road-signage simply aren’t. Infrastructure isn’t sexy.

IDnext is about the cars: the innovative approaches in applications and services regarding digital identity. These rely on the underlying infrastructure. And we’re putting serious weight upon it when we’re talking digital identity, both in volume and in value.

Twenty years ago, a major Dutch newspaper stated: “This network is not useable for a large audience. It lacks crucial services, like data protection and trustworthy foundations for financial transactions. In order to get reliable interconnection to all services offered, we need a true digital highway.” (De Volkskrant, 1995) This still holds very true today. Identity, authorisation and authentication are very new developments in the Internet world. Core protocols such as DNS (comparable to road signs on highways) were originally developed 30 to 40 years ago in a much more open and trusting world and lack basics for security and trust. They need to be adapted and improved to handle today’s needs.

Whose problem is this? Is it a societal problem? An economic one? And who’s going to solve it? The affected parties are unable to deal with it and the capable parties have no incentive to do so. This is where SIDN contributes, playing a vital role in relation to the reliability of the digital world and people’s confidence in it. Our mission and vision allow us to invest in these issues, “the Internet way”: in collaboration with a variety of affected parties, in dialogue with a multi-perspective audience (technical, governance, users), sharing knowledge and experience.

This is the perspective we bring to the table at IDnext: our experience in the structural foundations upon which the IDnext community now is trying to build this brave new world of innovative digital identities. And our knowledge about how innovations have been realised in the past decades in the Internet world, guided by multi-stakeholder policy development, based on principles such as end-to-end connectivity and transparency, open standards, universal access and freedom of speech.

The .nl-domain is our main responsibility and primary focus. We’re continually working at enhancing security and trustworthiness. This ranges from securing the DNS protocol (.nl is one of the most successful cases of DNSSEC-adoption) to domain name registration protection services (protecting domains against unauthorised modifications and warning services on malignant registrations). Our research team focuses on big data, looking for patterns to predict abusive and criminal behaviour for websites and registrations. We believe that, even though this doesn’t specifically involve personal data, big meta-data will result in major privacy issues in the future. Therefore we’ve been working on a privacy framework that can be used by other organisations as well.

We’re involved in various initiatives regarding trust frameworks and digital identity services. Last year, we started collaborating with SimplerInvoicing (an initiative on electronic invoicing). We participate in the PI-lab (Privacy and Identity Lab). We sponsor innovative internet-related projects through the SIDN Fund.

One of the newest projects we’re working on is .bv: a top-level domain currently not in use (managed by our Norwegian colleagues) that we’re planning to use for a totally new concept in the internet-world: verified domain name registrations. We aim to start a POC this year for issuing registrations to legal entities holding a ‘BV’ (private limited company) in the Netherlands. These registrations will be accompanied by additional third-party verified data.

As for me personally? I’m an architect. That is my modus operandi. But it’s my love for the Internet and its foundations that defines my work and my personal life: in the area where I live, we built our own fibre-optics network 12 years ago, enticing the market to provide 100 Mbps Internet services to the residents. This resulted in the Glazenkamp Foundation, an active community supporting this network and representing the users’ interests. Now we’re working on a 1 Gbps network and business case, aiming for a similar market response.

How I got here? Around the same time as the aforementioned newspaper article was published, I started a part-time job at this new internet-access-service-thing for consumers (often referred to as ‘the digital highway’, although the fast lane was a 28k8 dial-up-connection). Being an art school student and a mathematics-dropout, I figured it was a good way to earn some money. Ten years later, I realised I had not only started a career, I had a passion. The Internet developments provide me with a new job every year. Or several new jobs: as an architect, I’m more or less involved in all new projects at SIDN. Being a board member at IDnext is a great way to get a lot of different perspectives on the complex issues we’re trying to solve. The IDnext community offers a wide range of knowledge and expertise that I wouldn’t normally encounter that easily.

I hope this community will be a true platform for the open exchange of experience and know-how, both professionally and voluntarily, crossing boundaries of sectors and disciplines, because I believe that is the only way we are going to be able to really deal with the issues regarding digital identities – the Internet way.

Esther Makaay

Service Architect, SIDN

Advisory Board member, IDnextplatform

Member of the Board, Glazenkamp Foundation