The Obama administration’s recently released plan to create a government-directed electronic “identity ecosystem” is designed to reduce online fraud, identity theft and give users confidence in online transactions. But can it really work? And what impact will it have on already overburdened government managers and security professionals?
The plan, called the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), is intended to “chart a course for the public and private sectors to collaborate to raise the level of trust associated with the identity of individuals, organizations, networks, services and devices involved in online transactions.” Using the Identity Ecosystem, the centerpiece of NSTIC, individuals will be able to choose among multiple, interoperable digital credentials issued by competing private sector companies, supporting identity portability and meeting burgeoning public demand for secure, privacy-enhanced interactions with the commercial sector and all levels of government.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the designated lead agency for NSTIC, will steer the effort to implement the Identity Ecosystem. The agency will work closely with White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt and manage the NSTIC undertakings of federal agencies, including the Department pf Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Treasury the General Services Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
While the Identity Ecosystem will be built by the private sector, the government’s presence in the project is a bit like the elephant in the room. Officials are counting on it to help expand government online services and give constituents a rock-solid sense of trust in electronic transactions with agencies, especially as major federally led initiatives, such as health information technology — the public-private exchange of electronic health information — move forward in the coming years.
As a result, the government will “lead by example and be an early adopter of identity solutions” that align with the ecosystem framework, NSTIC states. The government also will initiate pilot programs, share its test beds with the private sector, and expand its services to jumpstart deployment of the ecosystem, according to the plan.