There’s been a lot of talk this week about the announcement of President Obama’s planned “Internet ID”, but very little of it actually contains any substance about how such an Internet identity plan would actually work. That’s because nobody really knows. There really is no plan yet; as far as anybody can tell at this point it’s all just a proposal to plan to have a plan to create a national Cyber ID, although that proposed plan does have a name, the “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace”, and is said to be being drafted as we speak. Really, the most important part of the announcement of the national cyber identity plan is that it names the U.S. Commerce Department as having authority over any such plan, rather than Homeland Security or the NSA.
This takes the wind out of the sails of any objections privacy groups may have about Homeland Security or the NSA – both policing agences – also having authority over national IDs on the Internet.
In explaining the proposal, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said that “We are not talking about a national ID card. We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy, and reducing and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords, through creation and use of more trusted digital identities.”
White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt added that the ability to be anonymous on the Internet will not be reduced, and that the national Internet ID would be completely voluntary. “I don’t have to get a credential, if I don’t want to,” said Schmidt, adding that there was no chance that “a centralized database will emerge,” from the plan, which probably carries about as much certainty as “no new taxes.”
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All that said, it was also stated that the initiative would have to come from the private sector (yes, despite the U.S. Commerce Department having authority over it – we didn’t say it made sense!)
Jim Dempsey, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, who also spoke at the announcement event with Schmidt and Locke, explained that “The government cannot create that identity infrastructure. If it tried to, it wouldn’t be trusted.”
Of course, the private sector has tried to create a one-password-to-rule-them-all “secure identity” before (witness Microsoft Passport, for example), with little success. (Of course, Facebook has made some serious inroads with the nearly-ubiquitous “Sign in with Facebook” that is popping up across all sorts of other Internet services. How many of you have blithely allowed your Facebook access to be used at non-Facebook sites, giving Facebook ever-increasing inroads to your business?)
On the other hand, the Fed’s record of Internet security has been nothing short of stunning, and we don’t mean that in a complimentary way.
What this all adds up to, at least for the moment, is that there’s nothing to see here, move along. And, when something does show up to see, it’s likely to be so contentious, and so ineffective (if not counter-effective) that we really doubt there will be any lasting program of substance.
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