Identity is a problem I have grappled with for a long time in my research. After all, what exactly is a user of a DRM system? And for that matter, what exactly is being protected? And what about the rules - how does the rules match up to the users, and the data? The problem is, identity itself is a very difficult concept to define, even when restricting itself to the digital realm. Even RFC 2828, the security glossary (which has become my de-facto second dictionary) does not give an adequate definition.
So, in a recent paper attempt (attempt because the paper was ultimately rejected), I had to fall back on the Oxford English Dictionary to define the term identity, which states:
1. a. The quality or condition of being the same in substance, composition, nature, properties, or in particular qualities under consideration; absolute or essential sameness; oneness.
absolute identity, that asserted in the metaphysical doctrine of Schelling that mind and matter are phenomenal modifications of the same substance.
b. with an and pl. An instance of this quality.
2. a. The sameness of a person or thing at all times or in all circumstances; the condition or fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else; individuality, personality.
personal identity (in Psychology), the condition or fact of remaining the same person throughout the various phases of existence; continuity of the personality.
b. Personal or individual existence. rare. ?Obs.
10. c. Belonging or relating to identity (sense 2), as in identity crisis, a phase of varying severity undergone by an individual in his need to establish his identity in relation to his associates and society as part of the process of maturing. Also transf.
Colloquially, identity is simply - who are you? But as discussed in Sophie's Choice, it is a very difficult question to answer. If identity seeks to define who or what something is, it becomes very difficult to pin down. Does identity then depend on the person's cultural heritage? moral compass? their geography? their political compass?
I first started thinking about this while leaving Cape Town International Airport for my trip to Budapest. The passport controller looked at me very strangely, and then asked rather curiously why I have a South African passport. It was not because I am of Indian origin, but rather because I was born in Nigeria? In fact, many times on overseas conferences, I have been asked how come an Indian guy carries a South African passport - a question I think many of my South African Indian friends could find offensive. I have found the idea of granting nationality purely on the basis of where a person is born to be rather stupid -- after all what does that have anything to do with it? So I qualify for a Nigerian passport because I was born there?
As for cultural identity - it is a difficult question for me. I have been brought up by fairly devout Hindu parents, and my broader family were once very devout Hindus - but then most Indians in India are rather devout. But many of my values differ greatly from my parents (and even greater difference to my other relatives in India). But much of my identity is not South African per se, as much of my beliefs etc. have been from my own extensive readings in all sorts of things. Although, I have spent about half my life in South Africa, I have also spent large amount of time in other countries.
This brings me back to my original question - what is identity? At the end of the day, does identity really matter? If a fingerprint, or iris scan represents an almost unique (identical twins problem) reference to a person, shouldn't that be enough to define what identity is? Why bring in other aspects to muddy the waters?