[LINK] "Identity Theft" [was: Copyright Infringement as Stealing: Pfft!]

Brendan Scott brendansweb at optusnet.com.au
Tue Oct 28 10:16:17 EST 2008

Stephen Wilson wrote:
> Stilgherrian wrote:
>> In the case of what is called "identity theft", I never could  
>> understand what was wrong with the good old words "impersonation" and  
>> "impersonation with intent to commit fraud" and "fraud" and so on. You  
>> know, the actual words which accurately describe the crime being  
>> committed.
> At the risk of being accused of "spin", I'd like to suggest that the 
> deliberate choice of words "identity theft" serves a useful rhetorical 
> purpose.  After all, words are powerful (which is an important principle 
> to remember when people decry "spin" without qualification -- that is, 
> "spin" is used for good as well as bad).


This is off topic of copyright infringement... I think "identity theft" certainly is used for a rhetorical purpose, but I think it is probably a dis-useful one rather than a useful one. 

What "identity theft" involves is one person A convincing a second person B that A is a third person C.  The fault (if any) is not with C, but with B for having a system of verification which fails to identify that A is not C.  By calling it "identity theft" rather than "banking stupidity" or "lax lending standards" or somesuch, it appears as if there is something that person C might be able to do to stop it.  But they can't. The only person who can do anything to prevent this conduct is B.  Further, in theory, the only person who has suffered a loss is B (by advancing credit or providing services), not C.  

Equally when B pursues C to recover their loss or charges, B has no case, but because B is typically an enormous organisation, B can hound C and C must deal with a bureaucracy to sort it out (if they can).  Again, the person causing the harm to C is primarily B (who, by assumption, cannot prove that they were instructed by C), and only indirectly A.  

The rhetorical effect in each case is to shield a certain segment of people (typically bankers) from blame. 

The obvious test case is where C is a purely fictional person.  If A convinces B that they are C, how can anyone say A engaged in "identity theft"?


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