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The thought of a trespasser violating our home in the middle of the night fills most people with dread, as well it should. We have a natural aversion to unwelcome visitors, let alone malicious intruders threatening our families and our property. We lock our doors, install cameras and keep guard dogs as precautions. So, why don’t we take the same steps to secure the very essence of ourselves in a vastly more intrusive and insecure environment: the internet?
Your most valuable asset
Your most valuable asset is the physical attributes, legal name, identification documents, occupation, experiences, community, sense of self and purpose that make up your identity. All of these things, when considered holistically, are what make you, you. Nobody else that has ever existed or will ever exist on earth shares your identity. It is uniquely yours. It’s the essence that you share with your family, co-workers and community; it’s the foundation of your entire life.
I call it your “authentic identity.” Nobody has a right to it, but that doesn’t stop the most corrupt among us from trying to steal it.
Failed confidence, lost trust
We live in a time of unprecedented convenience, but that convenience comes at a hefty price. Thieves, malicious actors and criminals are constantly trying to compromise our identity. Unfortunately, many of us are all too willing to share personal information with anonymous hordes of profiles on the internet. Still, much of the blame lies with the people who shape our internet behaviors.
We inherently trust that the entities behind our internet experience will safeguard our data, but oftentimes that trust is misplaced. Every breach of our identity is a breach of the trust and confidence we have when we surf the web. Fraudsters are very sophisticated, and they are easily able to steal our most personal data when it’s protected behind the thin wall of password authentication. When they do, the results can be catastrophic.
The dark(er) side of identity theft
When we consider the effects of identity theft, often the first thing that comes to mind is fraudulent financial activity, like opening a fake credit card account under our name or applying for a loan. However, there are more personal and intimate ways in which bad actors can use our identities.
Human trafficking is still a considerable problem, exacerbated by the internet. Its ties to identity theft, although not readily apparent, are present. Victims can be coerced into trafficking by threats from identity thieves or pressured to make financial decisions that take away their independence. Human traffickers use fake identities to troll social media sites, looking for unwary victims to persuade to meet up. Thieves can also use stolen identities to forge identities for trafficked persons, robbing two people of an essential part of their humanity. These victims become invisible to society and unrecognizable to themselves, losing hope that they can ever reclaim their birthright. But there is a way.
A path to redemption
The internet was created to share information almost instantaneously around the world. It’s done that, but that spirit of sharing created a world where the most nefarious among us can operate largely unchecked and behind the cloak of anonymity. It’s time for the most influential companies and agencies in our society to crack down on these thieves and stop them from stealing our most personal information by adopting a security mindset from the start, not just as an afterthought when developing new programs or services.
Even with more robust security practices, identity theft will still happen. The victims of online identity theft often feel a loss of purpose and identity. Still, we must extend hope. Even victims of the most brutal and horrific crimes in history have been able to reclaim their identity as masters of their own fates.
Louis Zamperini is one such story of redemption. Born to Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, Zamperini built a criminal empire on the streets of Torrance, California in his adolescence. He then found a passion for track and field in high school, though, and went on to run in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He later enlisted in the Air Corps and served over the Pacific in World War II, where the Japanese captured him.
Zamperini refused to give in to his captors despite daily torment, often enduring savage beatings and torture for not complying. His identity, and his humanity, were effectively erased during his imprisonment. He was liberated in 1945, but his experiences continued to haunt him until his conversion to Christianity in the 1950s. He even forgave his most brutal guards.
There are many more stories of similar people whose identities were erased by unbelievable hardship. However, many of them were able to pick up the pieces, reclaim their identity and contribute great things to society. The same is possible for victims of modern-day identity theft and trafficking or other forms of exploitation. Their story isn’t over, and they have a human right to exist. It’s time we help these people restore their lives by being more empathetic to those around us we perceive to be at risk, as well as by demanding stricter identity protection regulations from our legislative leaders and greater action from the corporations we support with our wallets.