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1Malaysia email - 1 Identity to rule them all?

OK a rapid one to talk about the just-announced plan by the Malaysian government. Here are some details:
The 1 Malaysia concept is a brainchild of Najib to bring unity among Malaysians when he took power in April 2009.

Najib disclosed today the email account will allow direct and secure communication between the public and the government, and is part of a new one-stop web portal for government services.

Najib said the portal will be developed by Tricubes and provide services such as social networking, online bill payment and citizen application development to some 16 million Malaysians. (The Malaysian Insider)

It's the first time I've heard of a government supplying emails to its people.

I can see one advantage. I've been reflecting more and more recently about how the convergence of on and offline activities is developing a situation where people move seamlessly between these different spheres of social interaction. With smartphones this can be very obvious (i.e. the person you're talking with keeps tweeting while talking to you), and the directions in which the geolocational affordances of mobile telephony are opening up are as yet unclear.

But there are many other more prosaic aspects of the on and offline convergence: doing your banking online, arranging your party on Facebook, ordering a pizza online. These all require identification, and more and more we are seeing Facebook and Google profiles becoming the default 'ID card' online.

The problem is that these are commercial interests, and one's formal, legal, identity should be regulated by a responsible state. Leaving it up to commercial interests leaves open pathways to abuse. Not least, privacy: for example, I wish that there was a law that said that we can delete **all** our details from any website that we registered with - at the moment, you have to register with many websites just to access their services - imagine if a shop didn't allow you in unless you filled out a form with your name, phone number, etc, first? Why do we have to do it online?

So, the answer would be a centralised (or some form of distributed system, for greater security) repository which can confirm our identity on request (e.g. for age, like when YouTube says the content of a video is not for children), but not **share** our data with the website. In other words, like showing your IC to prove your age at a pub - they don't get to keep all your details, but they know you're old enough.

So, I see a future when there is a state-certified online identity system. It could be done through logging on with a fingerprint detector, or some such highly secure mechanism. Embedded chips why not.

Before you start yelling Big Brother! at me, hold on. I agree it is open to abuse, and some governments are not to be trusted. But if it was a situation where you don't need to identify yourself to surf the web, but if you want, you can use this ID to register with forums, shops, banking online, etc. it could be really useful. A way to protect your privacy. It could also be an effective way of separating children from adult content.

There has to be an iron-clad way of ensuring nobody can track your surfing practices based on your secure identity, i.e. no cookies to follow you around online.

So. The only good reason I can think of having a 1Malaysia email account is that it would be verified and connected to one's IC. Then it could start to be the basis of such a verifiable online identity - to be used as the citizen wishes. But without a really careful plan, and a really secure system, it is not likely to succeed in providing that service.

Problems, solutions, and podcasts

Problem: I kind of miss blogging
Problem: blogging takes up time which I don't have
Solution: limit blogging time to 15 minutes
Problem: blogging typically takes more than 15 minutes because I want to provide links, photos, given careful and balanced arguments, etc.
Solution: one link and one photo maximum, don't get hung up with having perfect posts. Warn people that:
**What you see below are my unprocessed thoughts, please ask me, or leave a comment, if you want more information or want to question what I'm saying. I may well be wrong.**

Which is what I shall try to do.


Yesterday I was invited to speak on a podcast, 'Tech Beat' (there goes the link), which is hosted by John Lim. It was interesting and with interesting co-invitees (or whatever they're called).

Anyway, I listen to many podcasts, and often find myself wanting to butt in, or wondering why the person said what they did. But I found out that it's not as easy as it sounds: I came away from the recording wondering if I should have said what I did, and how I could have said it differently.

There's one thing I want to develop a little more. John asked about the impact of blogs on the political scene in Malaysia, and will they make a difference in the next election. I said something about how they were really groundbreaking back in 2004-5, but now many of the SoPo blogs have lost something of their independence (e.g. Jeff Ooi, or Rocky's Bru), and there are also many more pro-government blogs. I concluded by saying that they may make some difference, but the elections will be decided on other things.

The last statement is obvious, people vote based on a whole host of factors.

Anyway, what I should have said was: it's not just blogs anymore. Back in the period leading up to March 2008 blogs were the driving online voice, and they brought a practical information distribution factor that bypassed the MSM, and also a - very important - symbolic energy that encouraged people to speak out and to imagine alternatives.

It's not just blogs. It's all the online media: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc etc. These have let the cat out of the bag. The powers-that-be will never have it the same again, where they could control information distribution quite effectively. Historically, it goes back before blogs also, to email and websites during the Reformasi period.

OK, that's it