Northumbria University

Researchers from Northumbria University are among a team of academics sharing in a £1.36million grant to examine future technologies of identity management.

Professor Pam Briggs, Dean of the School of Life Sciences at Northumbria, will be involved in the  three-year IMPRINTS project which will be led by Professor Liesbet van Zoonen of Loughborough University, alongside colleagues from Dundee and Essex.

The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). An additional grant has been awarded by the Department of Homeland Security in America to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to simultaneously conduct the study in the US.

The Identity Management: Public Responses to Identity Technologies and Services (IMPRINTS) project aims to assess how and why the UK and US public will engage with particular future practices, services and technologies of identity management, while resisting others.

Iris and full-body scans and face or voice recognition have already become well-known practices, but innovations like implantable chips, odour scans, online ‘object’ passwords and mobile identity-sharing are on the horizon. It is unclear whether and why members of the public will embrace these innovations or reject them.

The Northumbria aspect of the project will involve sourcing futuristic scenarios from science fiction and academic literature and then developing stimuli to use with focus groups to trigger thinking around identity management.

Professor Briggs said: “I’ll be working with focus groups drawn from different populations, including young people, older adults and refugees, to talk to them about what ‘identity management’ means to them and we’ll be looking at inter-generational differences in what is acceptable and unacceptable in the ‘big brother’ world.

“The aim of the study is to develop a clear sense of the identity ‘taboos and desires’ and work with industry and government to use the ‘desire’ space for development.”

Professor Van Zoonen, Chair of Media and Communications at Loughborough, who is leading the project, added: “’There is a peculiar paradox between the eager sharing of personal details on social network sites, and the deep anxieties about, for instance, biometric identification or a national identity card.

“In this project we aim to gain a better understanding of such anxieties and appetites, and understand the way citizens will respond to new identity management technologies, services and practices in order to promote trustworthy and pleasurable processes of identity verification.”

To achieve this understanding, the researchers will work with stakeholders from civil society and government, security and commercial sectors in both the UK and US.

The project brings together experts in design, computer science, political science, media, psychology, sociology, and risk management, and findings will inform future government and security policy on identity management and its implementation, as well as provide resources for further research.


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