Research notes on Digital identity

Cade Diehm, Benjamin Royer (New Design Congress)

Wed Apr 24, 16:00-17:00 (3 months ago)

Abstract: Despite years of information security innovation, the state of user safety continues to decay and digital systems remain vulnerable. This is because the majority of attacks rely on a flawed first principle of digital identity assembled from entrenched assumptions around presentation, authentication, enforcement and trust. As societies continue to digitize with digital identity as the endpoint for all socio-technical contact between citizens, institutions and infrastructure, the collective inability to imagine new designs for digital identity will shatter how we cultivate social trust. How else can this depressing state of affair, where no single attribute of a person can escape the reach of bad actors, be brought to an end?

Since 2023, New Design Congress has applied a combination digital anthropology cum- adversarial security research methodology to the question of the flawed digital identity -- its definitions, implementations, and implications on the present and future. From FaceID to BankID, from Facebook to the fediverse, from Worldcoin to the world's passports, this is an exhaustive study of the opportunities and risks that emerge from how we represent entities in the information age. At the centre of all this is a core hypothesis: today's digital identities are inherently vulnerable to attack, and this leads to brittle digital societies.

With first findings due just weeks from this seminar, NDC has since January been drip-releasing research notes -- abridged chapters from the forthcoming report. Parts one (Identifying & Defining the Digital Self) and two (Self-(De)termination: The Fatal Ambiguity of Digital Identity) having already been released (initiating discussion in the Metagov Slack). Part three Spheres of Identity" - coauthored by Roel Roscam Abbing - is forthcoming, and will look at the properties of centralized/decentralized/federated identity systems.

From their first research note:

"Despite the popular concepts of digital identity being tied to user self-expression or data-politics, the expression or representation of self is not the intent of the digital identity first principle. Instead, the overarching goal shared by all implementations of digital identity is that of the broader intent of cybernetics: to govern a population in aggregate. This is accomplished by standardising the properties of entities and actors as they are appear within the digital system, eliminating edge cases where possible, and then designing socio-technical touchpoints within the system that allow for the management of these subjects."

Cade and Benjamin will join our seminar to present the broad arc of their research, draw connections between digital governance, cybernetics, and the untenability of digital identity in its current incarnation, opening a discussion around the future of online governance. Their presentation follows last week's seminar on the 17th of April looking at a similar topic in digital identity, particularly proof of personhood (details for last week's seminar are here:

game theoryhuman-computer interactionsocial and information networkslaw and economics

Audience: researchers in the topic

( chat | paper | video )

Metagovernance Seminar

Series comments: The Metagovernance Seminar invites individuals working in online governance to present their work to a community of other researchers and practitioners. Topics of the seminar include, but are not limited to, computational tools for governance, governance incidents and case studies from online communities, topics in cryptoeconomics, and the design of digital constitutions.

See archived videos:

The seminar is intended for researchers and practitioners in online governance, broadly defined. We welcome guests and curious members of the public, but please note that the discussion is moderated. Our governance structure is defined here:

Please contact a planning committee member (Cent Hosten, Nathan Schneider, Divya Siddarth, Michael Zargham, Joshua Tan, and Seth Frey) if you are interested in becoming a member of the seminar.

Where available, a direct link to the archived video is linked beneath the video tags.

Join our community to participate in the discussions around this series:


- Time: every Wednesday at 12:00pm ET (GMT-4). - Meeting Link:

Organizers: Joshua Tan*, Nathan Schneider*, Amy X. Zhang*, Cent Hosten*, Eugene Leventhal*, Val Elefante*
*contact for this listing

Export talk to