The entire REFEDS community sends congratulations to our good friends at LIGO on the historic detection of gravitational waves, recently announced and celebrated in the scientific community and beyond.

LIGO has been working as part of the REFEDS community for many years and has recognised the benefits of federated identity management for its diverse groups of users worldwide: it offers more privacy for the user, provides a clear link to an affiliated institution and removes the need for multiple sign-ons to multiple resources.

Unfortunately, it appears that observing ripples in the fabric of spacetime is currently more achievable than convincing universities to release basic data about users to LIGO to support the very collaborative exchanges that have made this scientific discovery possible.  Currently, LIGO is not able to effectively leverage research and education federations to support its scientific collaborations because of the lack of attribute release.

This is not the first time that we have failed to support science as effectively as we can.  David Kelsey of the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory noted the attempts of CERN and its partners to implement federated identity and that “it didn’t work either for the discoverers of the Higgs Boson.”

The reluctance of universities to release attributes is, in part, understandable. The complexities of the current Data Protection Directive – confused by the upcoming introduction of a new Data Protection Regulation – means that individuals responsible for data privacy within organisations often take the simple decision of locking all the data down rather than trying to define the risk and release profiles needed.  IT departments are also suffering from significant under-investment in identity management technologies, and lack the proper process and procedures to effectively manage data protection.


Help is, however, at hand.  REFEDS has designed a guide to help you understand how to release data in a way that easily manages the risk processes and decision making processes in one simple profile.  Alongside our guide on attribute release, REFEDS hosts the “Research and Scholarship” entity category.  This category provides you with a framework for determining the appropriateness of releasing to research and scholarship services – such as those offered by LIGO and CERN – and a simple technical means of implementing this with very little overhead for the university.  It is simple, subject to diligence by REFEDS and Federation Operators, and has been identified by scientific projects as the very data set they need to get researchers collaborating online.

It is part of the critical mission of research and education institutions to support the scientific endeavours and significant achievements of organisations such as LIGO and we all have a chance to do just that and play a small part in history. As Scott Koranda of LIGO asked on the REFEDS list immediately following the announcement: “can we please have attributes now?”