Trust in Identification Systems: From Empirical Observations to Design Guidelines

Trust in Identification Systems: From Empirical Observations to Design Guidelines

Piotr Cofta, Hazel Lacohée
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-682-7.ch019
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This chapter is concerned with methodology. The authors utilise a case study of citizen identification systems (that are adopted or are in the process of consideration for adoption in several countries throughout the world) to illustrate the continuum of trust-related considerations and technology adoption, ranging from theoretical underpinnings of trust, to empirical studies, through to practical design guidelines. The interdisciplinary nature of the research calls for a mixed methodological approach that combines the best from various disciplines. Drawing from the authors’ rich experience and their numerous publications in this field, this chapter provides a practical example of a methodology that combines empirical and theoretical studies in trust and technology adoption to deliver clear operational and technical guidelines that may increase trust in identification systems.
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Trust is valuable. The introduction of trust into a relationship between people (or, for example, between customers and institutions) promises to decrease the complexity and cost of such relationships and eventually brings benefits to both parties. However, as technology becomes an increasingly important element of these relationships, the question of whether technology should be trusted, and how others should be trusted through technology, also becomes increasingly important.

Different forms of identification and authentication have always been with us; without the ability to reliably identify ourselves, no relationship can be established and maintained. The introduction of technology has re-defined established protocols regarding identity (and its verification), introducing dis-embedding and re-embedding of social interactions (Giddens, 1988). It is a disruption rather than an evolution, and while the technology is an important factor of such disruptive change, it does not guarantee that a new system will be accepted on the merits of technology alone.

Citizen identification systems (commonly referred to as 'citizen cards' or 'citizen id' systems) have received mixed reception throughout the world. Some of the successes and failures of these identification systems can be attributed to the widely understood existing culture. However, there is still a question of whether certain properties of such systems result in an increase or decrease of public trust in their ability to deliver what they promise, such as increased security and improved service delivery. It is not appropriate here to engage in an in-depth discussion of the many, varied and complex issues concerning trust in identification systems but we address these in detail in chapter 5 of our book ‘Understanding Public Perceptions: Trust and Engagement in ICT-Mediated Services (Lacohée, Cofta, Phippen & Furnell, 2008).

The question that is addressed in this chapter is formulated as follows:

Having a particular application area, such as a citizen identification system, what are the technical (and associated operational) properties of such a system that can be deployed that warrant citizens' justified trust in the said system?

This question is inherently interdisciplinary, for example, it spans the subject of user acceptance, social psychology, organisational science, and management, as well as technology. The methodology that is employed to answer such a question should therefore reflect its interdisciplinary nature.

This chapter discusses an example of the methodology that the authors have applied to the question presented above, together with justifications, intermediary results and resulting guidelines. While this chapter has been designed as a discussion on interdisciplinary methodology, it can be also seen as a justification for particular guidelines regarding citizen identification systems.

The chapter starts with a detailed discussion of the chosen methodology and builds to provide background information concerning trust and identification systems. From there, we introduce the outcome of an anthropological, empirical study on user's trust in technical systems, and in particular, in citizen identity systems. Such a study leads to the formulation of certain findings regarding the current state of the trust relationship between people and technology.

The chapter then explores various theoretical models that attempt to explain the relationship between society and technology, mostly for the purpose of technology adoption. Observations from empirical studies guide the selection of the theory and eventually lead to predictions regarding possible reactions to alterations of the system. Alterations that are beneficial to justified trust are then converted into technological guidelines.



The complexity of technology adoption calls for mixed, interdisciplinary research with associated mixed, interdisciplinary methodology. We do not aspire to provide a complete methodology that will serve all possible cases of mixed interdisciplinary research; rather, our focus is on presenting the logic and outcome of a particular body of work, to demonstrate how such mixed methodologies work in practise for interdisciplinary research. As such, we would like to position our methodology as two-fold: first, against on-going methodological debates, and then against established and applicable methodologies.

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