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Italy-USA: on digital identity theft, the FBI calls upon Italian notaries

We publish below an article which appeared on 2 January 2013 in the Corriere della Sera  on the subject of the Italian Notariat's cooperation with the task force set up by the Obama administration to deal with problem relating to the management of digital identities in order to prevent electronic fraud, including in the real estate area.

“The call arrived from the Obama administration. And Italian notaries responded to that call. A delegation of professionals has been shuttling backwards and forwards to the United States to take part in the work of the ABA  (American Bar Association, the American equivalent of our “Ordine forense”), with a view to creating a certification system for digital identities. The problem in the United States is taking on worrying proportions, especially following the economic storm of 2008. It has been determined that approximately 10% of the damage caused by the sub-prime mortgage bubble is due to the phenomenon of the theft of identities online.

“In the United States, one's identity is private property,” comments Sabrina Chibbaro, a member of the notariat's IT commission. “So citizens may change their name in a day, so long as they update their documents. This other principle of liberty caused serious harm during the sub-prime phase: in the United States, all one needs to take out a home loan is a current account and utility bills in the same name. The absence of a system of certification and control of identities meant properties were sold and mortgaged under false names.”

So it happened that certain properties were purchased by Batman and Robin, just as it was possible for two journalists to sell the Empire State building on the Internet. This system added insult to the injury caused by the perfect storm of 2008. To the point where now the Obama administration has asked the ABA to find a reliable system for the verification of digital identities. Something similar to what Italian notaries have been using for a number of years. 

“We have been working for some years on a 'federated' identity,” explains Chibbaro. A user's identity is certified and is then considered reliable by other sites as well. For example, the notariat's portal ascertains the identity of a web user who can then use that identity on the Ministry of Finance's site as well, or on the Poligrafico di Stato site. As regards e-commerce, instead, we have been working for some time on a sort of electronic passport to guarantee safety and that can be valid for various application areas. It was precisely these skills and the system of certification implemented in Italy that led the Americans to call on us to take part in their study.”

The initiative is also of interest to the FBI which for some years has been dealing with digital identity theft. And it is no accident that American IT giants like Microsoft and PayPal are part of the commission. The subject is even more topical in the US since Facebook has been trying to turn the question into a source of revenue: using its own users' certified identities for marketing purposes. Now Obama's commission will have to find antidotes to a system that has already demonstrated a number of failures; and surprisingly enough it will avail itself of Italian advice, but that is just further evidence of the Anglo-Saxon world's interest in the civil law and its guarantees. Because liberty is sacred until it damages someone's finances.”