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A current draft of the "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace" has been posted by the Department of Homeland Security. This question is not asking about privacy or constitutionality, but about how this act will impact developers' business models and development strategies.

When the post was made I was reminded of Jeff's November blog post regarding an internet driver's license. Whether that is a perfect model or not, both approaches are attempting to handle a shared problem (of both developers and end users): How do we establish an online identity?

The question I ask here is, with respect to the various burdens that would be imposed on developers and users, what are some of the major, foreseeable implementation issues that will arise from the current U.S. Government's proposed solution?

For a quick primer on the setup, jump to page 12 for infrastructure components, here are two stand-outs:

  • An Identity Provider (IDP) is responsible for the processes associated with enrolling a subject, and establishing and maintaining the digital identity associated with an individual or NPE. These processes include identity vetting and proofing, as well as revocation, suspension, and recovery of the digital identity. The IDP is responsible for issuing a credential, the information object or device used during a transaction to provide evidence of the subject’s identity; it may also provide linkage to authority, roles, rights, privileges, and other attributes.
  • The credential can be stored on an identity medium, which is a device or object (physical or virtual) used for storing one or more credentials, claims, or attributes related to a subject. Identity media are widely available in many formats, such as smart cards, security chips embedded in PCs, cell phones, software based certificates, and USB devices. Selection of the appropriate credential is implementation specific and dependent on the risk tolerance of the participating entities.

Here are the first considered actionable components of the draft:

  • Action 1: Designate a Federal Agency to Lead the Public/Private Sector Efforts Associated with Achieving the Goals of the Strategy
  • Action 2: Develop a Shared, Comprehensive Public/Private Sector Implementation Plan
  • Action 3:Accelerate the Expansion of Federal Services, Pilots, and Policies that Align with the Identity Ecosystem
  • Action 4:Work Among the Public/Private Sectors to Implement Enhanced Privacy Protections
  • Action 5:Coordinate the Development and Refinement of Risk Models and Interoperability Standards
  • Action 6: Address the Liability Concerns of Service Providers and Individuals
  • Action 7: Perform Outreach and Awareness Across all Stakeholders
  • Action 8: Continue Collaborating in International Efforts
  • Action 9: Identify Other Means to Drive Adoption of the Identity Ecosystem across the Nation
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It should be noted this is not a legislative report/draft, and as such it does not have a determined mechanism for implementation; it appears to be a call for implementation solutions that cater to these concerns and the additional ones contained in the document. –  mfg Jan 14 '11 at 15:28
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To me the idea sounds a lot like OpenID, and I don't believe there is any mandate that anybody use it. I don't think users will be required to sign up for it, and I certainly don't think they can force every website to implement it at this point.

Action 9 in particular makes it seem like they're trying to persuade people to use it rather than mandating that everybody use it. So I think it would be safe to ignore it unless your users want to use this identity system to access your site. It's going to have the same problems as OpenID in getting web developers to implement it.

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I think that if the government tries to handle it, even by contracting to private companies, the end result will be mayhem. Historically private companies have succeeded already in security - look at Verisign! What we need is a company or companies to start making a business of being the identity verifier. OpenID is a start. I feel that something more than that is needed for secure applications like banking. It would require verification of identity rather than simply signing up online, and the business would have to be able to make guaruntees that they have covered all the bases and that no bots or malicious hackers have stolen the id's of legitamate people.

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