This is cross posted on my Fast Company Expert Blog with the same title.
I was very skeptical when I first learned government officials were poking around the identity community to learn from us and work with us. Over the last two and a half years, I have witnessed dozens of dedicated government officials work with the various communities focused on digital identity to really make sure they get it right. Based on what I heard in the announcements Friday at Stanford by Secretary of Commerce Locke and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt to put the Program Office in support of NSTIC (National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace) within the Department of Commerce. I am optimistic about their efforts and frustrated by the lack of depth and insight displayed in the news cycle with headlines that focus on a few choice phrases to raise hackles about this initiative, like this from CBS News: Obama Eyeing Internet ID for Americans.
I was listening to the announcement with a knowledgeable ear, having spent the last seven years of my life focused on user-centric digital identity. Our main conference Internet Identity Workshop held every 6 months since the fall of 2005 has for a logo the identity dog: an allusion to the famous New Yorker cartoon On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog. To me, this symbolizes the two big threads of our work: 1) maintaining the freedom to be who you want to be on the internet AND 2) having the freedom and ability to share verified information about yourself when you do want to. I believe the intentions of NSTIC align with both of these, and with other core threads of our communities’ efforts: to support identifiers portable from one site to another, to reduce the number of passwords people need, to prevent one centralized identity provider from being the default identity provider for the whole internet, to support verified anonymity (sharing claims about yourself that are verified and true but not giving away “who you are”), support broader diffusion of strong authentication technologies (USB tokens, one-time passwords on cellphones, or smart cards), and mutual authentication, allowing users to see more closely that the site they are intending to do business with is actually that site.
Looking at use cases that government agencies need to solve is the best way to to understand why the government is working with the private sector to catalyze an “Identity Ecosystem”.