Obama Administration fleshes out online trusted IDs

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has established a new Web site fleshing out the Obama Administration's plans for a National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC).

The Web site appears designed to provide additional information on the government's unfolding strategy, as well as to downplay any concerns some might harbor about NSTIC resulting in the creation of a national ID card.

The site's launch comes just days after Obama Administration officials announced the creation of a new national program office within the U.S. Department of Commerce for handling the NSTIC.

The program office will work with federal agencies and with the private sector to identify and develop new standards and to foster collaborative efforts for implementing the NSTIC.

The NSTIC stems from a government-wide cybersecurity review commissioned by the administration soon after it took office. The review resulted in several recommendations to secure cyberspace, including one that called for stronger security and privacy controls for securing online transactions and interactions.

Under the NSTIC, the government will work with the private sector to foster the development and implementation of technologies, standards and policies for better authenticating individuals, organizations, and the underlying infrastructure involved in online transactions.

The goal of the effort is to ensure the creation of an "Identity Ecosystem" in which Internet users and organizations can more completely trust each others' identities and systems, when carrying out online transactions.

When fully implemented, the new identity infrastructure will allow Internet users the option of obtaining trusted online credentials from a range of service providers and government entities. The credentials could then be used in a variety of transactions such as for banking and e-commerce.

In statements accompanying the announcement of the new program office last week, Commerce Department secretary Gary Locke stressed how the new initiative will not somehow result in the creation of a single national identity credential or centralized database. He also noted how use of the trusted online infrastructure will be purely voluntary and optional for Internet users.

A FAQ posted on the new NIST Web site also sought to alleviate any concerns Internet users and privacy advocates might potentially have about the effort.

For one, the site makes it clear that the NSTIC is not an attempt to foster a national ID card and neither is it a call for the creation of a single Internet ID. It also stresses how the initiative will be largely private-sector driven and owned.

"NSTIC does not advocate for a required form of identification. Nor will the U.S. government mandate that individuals obtain an Identity Ecosystem credential," the FAQ noted. Rather, users will have a choice to obtain the credentials from multiple providers and choose among multiple credential choices.

"For example, a student could get a digital credential from her cell phone provider and another one from her university and use either of them to log in to her bank, her e-mail, her social networking site, and so on, all without having to remember dozens of passwords," the site noted.

NSTIC also requires that the Identity Ecosystem be based upon Fair Information Practice Principles to ensure that personal data is handled fairly and properly, the site noted. The goal is to put in place a system that will allow Internet users to securely authenticate themselves while revealing minimal personal information.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld.

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