White House drafting plan for cyberspace safety

Looking to make online transactions safer, it drafts a strategy to use trusted and secure identities in cyberspace, and asks for ideas and feedback from the public.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read
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The White House is hoping to come up with a comprehensive strategy to better protect people in cyberspace and is asking the public for help.

Releasing a draft of the potential new National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (PDF) last Friday, the government is aiming to set up a system that would let people voluntarily create trusted identities to use in online transactions.

The goal, as described in a blog post by White House cybersecurity chief Howard Schmidt, is to secure and protect transactions in cyberspace through use of a special ID--a smart card or digital certificate--that would prove that people are who they say they are. These digital IDs would be offered to consumers by online vendors for financial transactions.

Looking for suggestions from the public, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has launched a Web site to elicit ideas and feedback on the NSTIC. The government plans to collect comments at the site through July 19 before promising to finalize its strategy later this fall.

The initial draft of the NSTIC was created with input from key government agencies, business leaders, and privacy advocates in response to one of the action items in President Obama's Cyberspace Policy Review, according to Schmidt. With online consumers and companies grappling with fraud and identity theft, the administration wants an "identity ecosystem" in which people can feel more safe and secure, as they conduct business over the Internet.

In discussing the NSTIC's digital-ID initiative, Schmidt outlined a number of specific benefits. A smart identity card would eliminate--or at least reduce--the need to juggle a multitude of usernames and passwords for each online service. Such an ID system would also let individuals choose and control how much private information they wished to reveal to authenticate themselves online.

The use of identity cards both online and offline has has been proposed and debated for several years. Such cards have started to find a niche in Europe, but the U.S. response has been cautious. Proponents have advocated the digital IDs as a way to better protect our identities, but opponents fear that such efforts would make it easier for governments to keep a close eye on citizens.