On the face of it, a call for young people to  get more involved in voting and pressure to protect young people on social media sites don't have much in common.

But demands to allow voting online and demands for an online ID card are both deeply flawed and touch on a major problem for online businesses - identity management or how to prove who you are.

Lewis PR created a bit of a buzz with its call for online voting to be allowed, according to the survey that it carried out, 77 percent of voters would vote online if they could. This prompted a sniffy article in Wired UK pointing out what a solemn duty voting is and how it shouldn't trivialised as if people were voting for the X Factor. That may true, but it's missing the point spectacularly - online voting shouldn't be allowed because there are so many overwhelming problems to overcome, it's scarcely worth trying.

The problem that the proponents of online voting face is the same one faced by many enterprises ie online identity, knowing the person logging on is who he/she says.

There was another example last week with calls for online ID cards to protect children on social media sites.One hapless government minister, Meg Hillier, is promoting this scheme but even by the standards of this government, which has an abysmal record when it comes to IT, it's a non-starter.

It's easy enough to talk about online voting and ID cards but establishing a digital identity is very, very difficult. Enterprises face this challenge every day and manage it by aligning identity with a directory service but that's not such an easy challenge for governments.

Let's take voting first. At the moment, one needs to show no form of ID to vote, it's done purely by address. If John and Janet Smith of 33 Acacia Avenue put down a fake lodger, Roger Dodger, then Roger Dodger would have a vote even though he didn't exist. There of course checks that could prevent this, but it would be possible to do it and get away with it.

For online voting, the system would have to be completely overhauled but with no compulsory national identity card it's hard to see how changes could be made without a radical alteration of the way information on citizens is held. Nor would it be easy to stop someone voting twice or someone giving his or her vote to another voter.

For the system to work, there would probably need to be some biometric device used but then that begs the question: who will pay for biometric devices in every home?

And finally, there's the problem that the servers used for online voting would be prime targets for terrorists or hackers wishing to test their skills.It's odds-on that the first online election would be subject to a DDoS attack.

Online ID cards to protect young people sound great in theory but again, how, without any biometric facility can they be used to establish identity. There is also the added problem that it's not governments doing the implementation but foreign companies - why should Facebook or MySpace change their policy at the behest of another government. And what would the government do if Facebook didn't comply - block it like China does?

Strangely enough, calls for online voting and ID cards are with young people in mind - either to engage them in politics or to protect them. Yet it's these young people who are most aware of the problems in digital communication. As research released last year showed, young people are fully aware of the risks involved in social media sites and in digital communication. This is a generation that has grown up with the Internet and is fully cognisant of the risks (obviously this doesn't always apply to younger teenagers who may well need to be closely monitored as they learn the dangers of sharing too much information). Young people also exhibit a healthy distrust in institutions, something that might hinder too many government initiatives.

Don't get me wrong: it's worthy to talk about engaging young people in politics and is admirable to seek to protect them but talking glibly of online this and online that isn't going to help matters at all.

It's perfectly possible that at some point in the future we will have online voting but it won't be for many years, treating politics as some form of reality TV show is an insult to politicians but most of all, to us.



Follow Maxwell on Twitter @maxcooter

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