The U.S. Department of Commerce will launch an office focused on promoting online trusted identity technologies, although much of the effort will be driven by private vendors, officials with President Barack Obama's administration said Friday.
Trusted ID technology is important because it can help improve consumer confidence in the Internet, said Gary Locke, secretary of the Commerce Department, during a speech at Stanford University in California. "The reality is that the Internet still faces something of a trust issue," Locke said. "It will not reach its full potential until users and consumers feel more secure than they do today when they go online."
Locke and Howard Schmidt, cybersecurity coordinator at the White House, announced a national program office in the Commerce Department for the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). The upcoming NSTIC, released in draft form in June, will seek to create an "ecosystem" where Internet users can trust each others' identities, but the U.S. government will not have a monopoly on issuing online credentials, Locke said.
"Let's be clear: We're not talking about a national ID card," he said. "We're not talking about a government-controlled system."
The White House will need technology vendors to design, build and offer trusted ID technologies, Locke added.
A trusted ID system will give online users options, Schmidt added. There should be a range of trusted ID providers and a range of credentials available, he said. People should be able to use pseudonyms to make comments online, and trusted IDs should be optional, he added.
"I don't have to get a credential if I don't want one," he said. "If I want to get a credential, I don't have to use it all the time. I can be selective where I use it and when I use it."
A trusted ID system will not solve all cybersecurity problems, but it will be one tool to improve online security, Schmidt said. "Many of you who have been in security for years know that security is not a destination, it's a journey," he said. "As a consequence, this is one piece that we need to put together."
Representatives of security vendor McAfee and tech trade group TechAmerica praised the White House for focusing on trusted IDs and for reaching out to tech vendors.
"The government has clearly recognized that the tech industry must drive implementation of the national strategy," said Phil Bond, president and CEO of TechAmerica. Bond called on the Commerce Department to create a private-sector advisory committee for its new trusted ID office.
It's important that private companies drive the trusted ID effort, added privacy advocate James Dempsey , vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "The government cannot create that identity infrastructure," he said. "If it tried to, it wouldn't be trusted."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.