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4/15/2011
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White Houses Issues Online Trusted Identities Plan

The private sector is expected to take the lead in developing a stronger process for more secure online identities, according to the final version of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.

The White House Friday released the final version of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), backing away from its role in leading implementation of a plan to standardize and strengthen online identity management and authentication and leaving it more in the hands of the private sector.

Previous rhetoric around the plan--which aims to solve the problem of the multiple identities and passwords people use when making online transactions and the risks they pose--presented a scenario in which the government would oversee the strategy and possibly even create new legislation to support it.

But on a conference call Friday releasing the final draft of NSTIC, a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) official made it clear that it would be up to the private sector to achieve the goals of the plan, with the government playing more of a facilitator role.

"This has to be a private sector-led effort," said Jeremy Grant, senior executive advisor of ID Management at NIST. "This must be led by the private sector, facilitated by the government."

Indeed, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said Friday that while other countries are issuing national ID cards to solve the problem--something the U.S. government also pondered--in the end the Obama administration thought it best to leave online credentials in the hands of the private sector.

"We don't think that's a good model," he said. "To the contrary, we expect the private sector to lead the way in fulfilling the goals of NSTIC. Having a single issuer of identities creates unacceptable privacy and civil liberties issues. We also want to spur innovation, not limit it."

Responding to a question about whether the government will create legislation to support NSTIC, as was hinted before, Grant deferred again to the private sector's leadership role, saying the federal government would "tackle this as it comes."

The final plan as described by Grant more clearly outlines what the strategy hopes to do than a previous draft released last June.

The four goals of NIST are to create more privacy for consumers on the Internet, protect them from online fraud, move more services online, and create a platform for new and innovative services on the Internet, Grant said.

He also described how an online identity marketplace that NSTIC aims to set up might work. Eventually, Grant said, people will be able to choose from both private and public providers of online credentials, use either across multiple transaction-based sites, or use more than one when making different transactions online.

Acquiring these credentials is purely optional, and organizations managing them will use mobile devices, smartcards, and other contemporary technologies to deliver them, he said.

"Choice is key for what we're trying to accomplish," Grant said. "[People] can choose between lots of different credential providers--maybe a bank or a healthcare provider. Consumers can choose between the different types of credentials if they decide to participate at all."

Industry stakeholders--such as companies creating identity management software and online security companies--by and large are backing NSTIC. However, even companies involved in helping the government shape NSTIC said that execution is key to the success of the strategy.

"The Obama administration … has established the framework to enable more online services, and is now emphasizing that this is a key strategy," said Mike Osburn, principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, a top federal contractor who has worked closely with the government on the plan. "The words are good, but the test will be whether there is any action."

To that end, there will be four workshops between now and September to sketch out how the plan will be implemented, Grant said. The first one, which likely will be held in June, will be about governance.

He said that it will be likely several years, however, before the online credentials marketplace is fully up and running.

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