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White House Releases Draft Digital Identity Strategy

Rather than mandating a national online ID, the proposed strategy urges development of secure, standard, interoperable framework for online transactions.

The White House on Friday released a draft strategy aimed at helping increase the trustworthiness of digital identities and online transactions.

The 39-page National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace defines and urges development of a high-level framework and eventually an interoperable "environment" for identification, authentication and authorization during the course of online transactions that the White House calls the Identity Ecosystem.

The strategy does not attempt to reconstitute the ghost of failed national identity card efforts nor create any new government-run database of all American citizens' identities, but, rather, appears aimed at driving the creation and use of a framework or blueprint within which online identities can be interoperable, secure and useful across the Web.

"No longer should individuals have to remember an ever-expanding and potentially insecure list of usernames and passwords to login into various online services." White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt said in a blog post. "We seek a future where individuals can voluntarily choose to obtain a secure, interoperable, and privacy-enhancing credential from a variety of service providers – both public and private – to authenticate themselves online for different types of transactions."

The strategy has several over-arching goals, including the design and implementation of the so-called Identity Ecosystem, a campaign to educate the public and improve confidence and willingness to participate in it, and long-term management of the Identity Ecosystem.

More specifically, the Identity Ecosystem will include comprehensive identification and authentication standards (which may draw from existing standards efforts) and improved definition of the rights and responsibilities of various constituencies involved in online transactions including identity providers and citizens. The strategy notes that new laws might be required in order to "address liability concerns and establish enforcement mechanisms that provide accountability."

Once the ecosystem is defined, the strategy notes, the government hopes to spark adoption by making the federal government an early adopter of the standards and by promoting, incentivizing implementation of related private sector products and business models, new funding of digital identity research and development, and educating the public and the private sector about the importance of an interoperable, secure identity framework for the Web.

According to the strategy, the White House will select a lead agency that will be responsible for coordinating and driving the Identity Ecosystem efforts by setting and assessing progress toward goals, coordinating public-private collaboration and establishing private sector advisory committees.

The strategy, sparked by the Obama administration's Cyberspace Policy Review issued last May, has thus far been developed by the White House, in concert with industry, government agencies and privacy advocates, collecting more than 4,000 comments already from those constituent groups.

If the strategy sounds somewhat broad and vague, it's because it is. The White House notes that the global nature of the Internet forces this to be an international effort, and implies that the importance of stakeholder acceptance in such a broad effort means that any successes will come only through cooperation with both industry and the public. That almost necessitates something on a grand scale.

The White House expects to get the President's seal of approval on the final plan by October, which is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. In the interim, the Department of Homeland Security will be collecting public comment on and ideas for the strategy through July 19 on a crowdsourcing site powered by IdeaScale.

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