On September 12, 2001, I made a very big promise to a very little girl.
In the Fall of 2001, I was already involved in the wonderful and wacky world of data protection and information assets. I was a young lawyer, practicing intellectual property and privacy law for Sun Microsystems. To this day, I will challenge any technology company to best Sun’s culture for excellence in engineering, integrity and just good clean fun. The end wasn’t so fun, but the heyday was something to be remembered.
My new-ish husband and I were living in a temporary apartment close to Stanford Hospital while we reconstructed our home, lost to a fire, and waited for our first baby. Like her momma, my daughter, “Ms Thang”, waits for her own right time for things to happen. She arrived, nearly two weeks later than expected, on September 5.
Six days later, the world ended.
New York City was my adopted hometown. The place I arrived at 22 and found my first real taste of Identity. Not a child, not a student, but, instead, Someone on her way Somewhere. I lived in Manhattan from 1990 through 1997 and, even now, after all these years living in the depths of Silicon Valley, it is home.
On September 11, 2001, living in my borrowed apartment with my new baby, the world ended and my real quest began.
Ms. Thang awoke, after a long night of crankiness and just 6 days old, just after the first murderous attackers drove a plane full of innocent Identities into a building full of even more Identities. I heard screaming and, after a time, finally realized that it was I. Thang was fully awake and strangely silent. She stared into my eyes with an intensity that I shall never forget. Here was Someone on her way to Somewhere while thousands more had ended.
For the next 24 hours I held that tiny little baby and repeated over and over and over, “It’s all right baby; Mommy’s here.” I knew that I really cared about what happened next; that I could only control what I had before me; that I could take my work in privacy to a whole new level to prove to myself that there was some good left for my Ms Thang.
I cannot remember if I called Jonathan Fox— then the editor in chief for sun.com– first or if he called me, but someone called someone and soon Sun’s fledgling Privacy Council had a Plan. The details are as one would expect. We set to work to ensure that we had all the right players and all the right politics to make data protection our huge priority. We battled budgetless projects, skeptics and our more than fair share of fools. We fought to protect our Customers, shape policies and improve our Business.
We were not perfect, but we changed some important things and now ubiquitous technologies for the better and showed our families how we could throw our entire selves into the worthy mission of ensuring that Identity, People, Human data is worth protection. We proved time and time again that businesses could thrive and respect Identity at the same time. That rejecting Privacy as a quaint historical notion is a wimpy cop out when there are far better choices to be made and leadership to be executed.
Why is any of this important? When I think about concepts around Identity, I don’t just think about sorting technologies—role based access, audit or federation software. I don’t just think about secure operating systems, or Cloud Computing or I don’t just think about legal regimes and ‘compliance’ with rules based on mistakes or crimes committed in the past. I don’t just think about human rights and how intertwined are the experiences of the human with the data artifacts that describe that human or some other human’s interpretation of that human. I don’t even limit thinking to a generalized notion of Brand or Reputation or even Trust.
Ultimately, when I start to think about Identity, I think about telling someone very small, “Don’t worry, Mommy’s here. Everything will be alright.” And then I try and try and try to make it so. It’s been nearly 10 years since that terrible morning and the promise lives on.
All in, this short history sounds far more dramatic and sad than is the truth. In these 10 years, we have laughed our faces off, learned a great deal and circled the globe listening to different ideas and searching for how to get Identity right and properly reflected in the people, processes and technologies that would support it. The community of Chief Privacy Officers, CIO’s, CSO’s CISO’s, law makers, marketeers, advocates, academics, sales teams, researchers and even the odd CEO here and there have been on this hunt for Identity together and it’s been one hell of a journey so far!
Founder, The Identity Project