Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

White House Rolls Out Plan to Get to Next-Generation Digital Identity

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, April 15 2011

The awaited National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace dropped today. Let's get this out of the way at the start: yes, this is the "National Online ID Card" that you might have heard talked about, though as we've discussed in our January interview with the Center for Democracy and Technology's Aaron Brauer-Reike, that really might be the least illuminating way to think about what's being proposed by the Obama administration here.

The idea is that the federal government could be useful in fostering the creation of a standard that allows for the development of a more secure "identity ecosystem." Early Internet developers figured out that if we all used TCP/IP, we could get networks to talk to one another and that might be really awesome. The idea behind the NSTIC is that if we can similarly come up with a way to get identity systems to talk, we might actually end up with an Internet that does a better job at protecting identity. How so? Because you wouldn't, say, have to tell a website your name, rank, and serial number to get the benefits of being verified on aspects of your identity. To pick a simple example, you could prove once to your trusted identify provider that you're over 18 by showing a credit card -- and then any website you wanted to visit that required you to be over 18 (no judgment) would only need to know the results of that yes-no age test, not your Visa number.

For those of us interested in the open government space, trusted identity raises the intriguing possibility of creating threaded online transactions with governments that require the exchange of only the minimum in identifying information. For example, Brauer-Reike sketched out the idea of an urban survey that only required a certification that you lived in the relevant area. The city doesn't need to know who you are or where, exactly, you live. It only needs to know that you fit within the boundaries of the area they're interested in.

The idea of having trusted online identity providers is an intriguing one. Whether it's a good idea should be the subject of this debate. The feds see this as an another step in making the Internet safe for commerce, an attitude that triggered the executive branch's initial interest in the Internet that helped develop it into a global medium. That said, having the White House seal on the plan is a little weird, and the idea of federal branch playing a role in any sort of digital identity system prompts some queasiness in the tummy.

But after all, it's not like identity information isn't already exchanged on the Internet. One question is this is whether we're comfortable with a future where, well, Facebook is the only one saying who's who online or if we want the option of, say, having the Electronic Frontier Foundation be the keepers of our online identity? Odds are, though, that the whole discussion gets bound in by this idea of a "national online ID card" and we end up not exploring what could be.

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

More