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Roger Clarke, one of my favorite privacy experts and the person I learned the notion of separation of "entities" and "identities" has written a paper about the problems with ENUM. I wrote about ENUM when Australia announced their initiative. I am on a mission to make sure that Japan doesn't try to link ENUM with the national ID...

Roger Clarke
From: Roger Clarke
Subject: Glitterati: ENUM: Case Study in Social Irresponsibility

I've just finished a paper on a proposed Internet scheme that will have extremely serious implications if it's implemented:

ENUM - A Case Study in Social Irresponsibility

As always, constructively negative feedback much appreciated.


ENUM is meant to provide a means of mapping from telephone numbers to IP-addresses: "today, many addresses; with ENUM, only one", as its proponents express it.

Any such capability would be extremely dangerous, providing governments, corporations, and even individuals, with the ability to locate and to track other people, both in network space, and in physical space. The beneficiaries would be the powerful who seek to manipulate the behaviour of others. It would do immense social, sociological and democratic harm.

The astounding thing is that the engineers responsible for it are still adopting the na・e position that its impact and implications are someone else's problem. With converged computing-and-communications technologies becoming ever more powerful and ever more pervasive, engineers have to be shaken out of their cosy cocoon, and forced to confront the implications, along with the technology and its applications.


Outline Description of ENUM
The Context
Implications of ENUM
Responses by the ENUM WG

Roger Clarke

1 Comment

Not only does this idea fail on some obvious privacy fronts, it's a prime example of people stepping backward in a misguided attempt to protect users from change.

I have no problem with the idea of publishing one particular public contact identifier (like a phone number) that might perhaps map to a variety of services.

The thing that frustrates me is that anyone would, given options, choose a PHONE NUMBER as a "friendly" designator.

Sure, it's familiar, but it's a string of numbers! I still encounter people who can only remember phone numbers by the kinesthetic sense of moving their fingers in a particular dialing pattern. That's evidence enough for me that they're not memorable identifiers.

Phone numbers are artifacts, like IP addresses, of physical infrastructure topology. The idea that we should go out of our way to deploy systems that enshrine that user hostility forever is almost laughable.

At least in the early days of the US telephone network, people had exchange names as the first component of phone numbers. Some of these had explicit relevance to locations. Direct distance dialing took that away from us.

(If you want a pop culture example of the backlash, go rent the film "The President's Analyst" - It was produced at the time that operators were being automated out of the system and users were confused and upset for years afterward.)

The Domain Name System is by no means perfect, but at least it provides a little welcome insulation between the arcana of network routing and the user.

I hope that as we, the global user community, evolve, that we'll continue to develop friendlier identifiers. Mine won't be a string of digits.