President Obama is planning to hand the U.S. Commerce Department authority over a forthcoming cybersecurity effort to create an Internet ID for Americans, a White House official said. The idea is to create an “identity ecosystem” for the Internet, while the government says this isn’t a “National ID Card” it does appear to be very similar but restricted only to Internet activities.
The announcement came at an event today at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, where U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Howard Schmidt poke.
“We’re not talking about a national ID card,” Locke said at Stanford event. “We’re not talking about a government-controlled system. What we’re 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.”
Details about the “trusted identity” project are unusually scarce. Last year’s announcement referenced a possible forthcoming smart card or digital certificate that would prove that online users are who they say they’re. These digital IDs would be offered to consumers by online vendors for financial transactions.
Schmidt stressed that anonymity and pseudonymity will remain possible on the Internet. “I don’t have to get a credential if I don’t want to,” he said. There’s no chance that “a centralized database will emerge,” and “we need the private sector to lead the implementation of this,” he said.