White House Unveils ‘Cyber ID’ Proposal: What Does It Mean for You?

The Obama administration is moving full-steam ahead with its plan for an Internet ID for Americans, pushing aside concerns that creating a national identity card would be extremely controversial. Pilot projects for the ID program could begin as early as next year. What should you expect?

The Obama administration is moving full-steam ahead with its plan for an Internet ID for Americans, pushing aside concerns that creating a national identity card would be extremely controversial.  Pilot projects for the ID program could begin as early as next year.  What should you expect?

First, having an ID means you would no longer need to remember and update the passwords now required at every step you take on the Web.

Second, you will have the choice as to whether you want to participate in the ID program, or not.

Those are two keys to remember as you consider the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, or NSTIC, unveiled by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke at an event last week at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

The White House first announced plans to create a National Internet ID system in January as the government’s solution for how to better protect the millions of Americans that fall victim to online identity theft each year.

The proposed “identity ecosystem” would use a single credential such as unique software on a smartphone, a smart card, or a token that generates a one-time digital password, to identify the user, and would eliminate the need to remember multiple passwords.

“The consumer can use their single credential to log into any website, with more security than passwords alone provide,” the White House said.  “Consumers can use their credential to prove their identity when they’re carrying out sensitive transactions, like banking, and can stay anonymous when they are not.”

Upon its initial release, the plan created more questions than it answered and raised concerns that the ID would be a mandatory, government-issued behemoth.

(For a detailed response to the public outcry following the White House’s initial proposal read our in-depth interview with a Commerce Department official here.  For our initial FAQ on the National Internet ID click here.)

The latest 55-page outline of the program (PDF) released by the White House thus adds more details and highlights the voluntary, private-sector nature of the program.

The outline includes specific examples of what individuals who choose to participate in the program could do, such as obtaining a digital ID from an Internet service provider to access your personal health information, or logging into IRS.gov to file your taxes by obtaining an ID through your cell phone.

And Secretary Locke, in his remarks at the Chamber event, specifically spoke to critics by emphasizing the program will be run by the private sector.

“Other countries have chosen to rely on government-led initiatives to essentially create national ID cards,” he said. “We don’t think that’s a good model, despite what you might have read on blogs frequented by the conspiracy theory set. Having a single issuer of identities creates unacceptable privacy and civil liberties issues. We also want to spur innovation, not limit it.”

To emphasize his point, Locke brought officials from Google, Symantec, PayPal, Microsoft and Northrop Grumman Corp to stand beside him at the Chamber kick-off event.

The White House is aiming to launch several trusted ID pilot projects in 2012, with a robust trusted ID market in the U.S. in three to five years, officials said.

But on tap before a National ID could be created for you are a series of NIST-sponsored workshops to address potential problems with development and adoption of online ID authentication technologies.

Businesses, consumer groups, privacy advocates and the public will all be invited for the workshops planned between June and September of this year.