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Full Title or Meme

Guardians are recognized by sovereign governments as Authorized to take actions to protect people or property that cannot be left to themselves or their owners to protect.


In the context of identity management the guardian accepts responsibility for an Identifier or User Private Information that is owned by some Subject.

Related Terms

  • Delegate - where the guardian is identified independently of the subject (aka acts in openID)
  • Impersonation - where the guardian takes on the identity of the subject (supposedly this is illegal in openID, but it is hard to detect and indistinguishable from an attack.)
  • Agent - where the guardian is some other process. While this is like delegation, typically the agent is only identified in the transport protocol and not in the application.
  • Proof-of-Presence - where the agent presents evidence that the Subject has personally initiated the request that is presented by the agent.
  • Client - in the sense that the Subject has delegated some limited authority to the client who can then access only to those subject's assets granted by the subject.
  • Fiduciary - the resource owner may place their assets in the hands of an organization like money in a bank, or data in a data store that acts on their behalf.
  • Conservator - a name used in some states for a court appointed guardian.


Guardianship is context dependent.

  • An adult can register a homeless child for school with little documentation.
  • A child that needs medical care can allow nearly anyone that comes with them to the hospital to make choices.
  • Emergency workers may need to notify guardians of actions taken to protect life or property, but cannot be expected to seek prior approval.
  • Good data of known provenance is often more important than strict enforcement of guardian relationships.


  • Disability rights protectors like the ACLU, are worried that it is too easy to get a court to grant a conservatorship and too difficult to get it removed.
  • There is a catch-22 effect in asking for removal as the court can determine that the conservatorship as successful brought the disabled person back to health and so should be retained.
  • How Conservatorship Threatens Britney Spears’ Civil Rights from the ASLU news page 2020-08-20
  • The ACLU estimates that there are 1.5 million conservatorships in place in the US. 2021-03-27


A guardian cannot act in isolation—it must always have a mandate. That mandate can originate from these sources:

  1. Legal Construct. Guardianship may be based on a legal construct. This legal construct usually takes the form of a power of attorney singed by the subject, a regulation, or a court order.
  2. Social Norm. Many forms of guardianship are based on a social norm with nothing but custom or circumstance to back it up. An example is the aid worker who found an unaccompanied child at the border and brought her to a camp.
  3. Organizational Governance. This type of mandate is encoded in a recognized professional code of practice, regulation, domain-specific governance framework or sovereign immunity as would be found in legally recognized emergencies.