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Institutions collaborate to allow secure access across continents

Researchers at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Columbia University are using a new internet technology which allows students and faculty around the globe to share their scholarly materials. The technology removes the need for repeated authentication of individual users, whilst protecting their privacy and the valuable intellectual property of the universities.

LSE and Columbia are using the new technology to share teaching and library resources in anthropology, as part of a collaborative project called Digital Anthropology Resources for Teaching (aka 'DART'). It offers much wider flexibility in the arrangements with publishers of content and in the variety of content offered to students.

Jean Sykes, librarian and director of information services at the London School of Economics and Political Science said: 'LSE is proud to have helped the world to take a step closer towards faster, secure and more efficient global interaction between institutions, for the benefit of students and scholars.'

The technology, called Shibboleth®, is a collaborative development of the US Internet2 organisation and is supported in the UK by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) on behalf of the higher and further education community. Use of Shibboleth in the UK was first piloted by LSE, and the secure resource sharing it enables is an early example of the way many other collaborations between universities will work. It enables authorisation for access to be based on the roles or characteristics of authenticated users, rather than the external resource needing to 'know' their identity. Alan Robiette, JISC middleware programme director said: 'Facilitating inter-institutional collaboration in research and teaching is an important part of our plans.'

Shibboleth has been tested with a number of higher-education institutions, academic publishers, and other suppliers of IT systems to higher education. They include Jstor, Elsevier and WebCT. Using Shibboleth will mean that the burden on suppliers to register individual users will be eliminated, thereby matching the technology to the business processes. Since it doesn't depend on network ('IP') addresses, authenticated users can be on or off campus.

Internet2's Shibboleth project aims to build a global access management infrastructure with an emphasis on personal privacy. This means that academics, students and administrators in education will be able to get online access to information tailored for their individual needs and assembled from a wide variety of sources including secure, private and commercial ones.

Ken Klingenstein, project director of the Internet2 Middleware Initiative, and chief technologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder added, 'The collaboration between LSE and Columbia demonstrates new and innovative uses of the underlying Shibboleth technology - in its international dimensions, its application directly between institutions, and the ease of use it offers to scholars and students. This work indicates the growing value, and transformational impact, of a federated management approach within academia.'

The technology moves us a step closer to 'the semantic web' outlined by Sir Tim Berners-Lee as the next stage in the creation of an intelligent middleware layer to support applications on the World Wide Web.


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Notes for editors:

JISC - Joint Information Systems Committee - is a committee of all UK further and higher education funding bodies, and is responsible for supporting the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support learning, teaching and research. It is best known for providing the JANET network, a range of support, content and advisory services, and a portfolio of high-quality resources. Information about JISC, its services and programmes can be found at www.jisc.ac.uk For further information, contact Philip Pothen: 020 7848 2935, email p.pothen@jisc.ac.uk

Internet2 - For more information, see www.internet2.edu

Digital Anthropology Resources for Teaching (DART) aims to explore the potential of digital resources for the teaching of undergraduate anthropology and investigates digital-library technologies that will allow for the flexible delivery and customized use of these resources. Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science are partners in this international project. More information at www.columbia.edu/dlc/dart| 

11 January 2005