Would Government Issued Internet ID Hamper Online Commerce?

Privacy is a concern for everyone online. How we treat online privacy is always at the center of arguments about how far the Internet can truly go in delivering most everything to consumers. Privacy is looked at differently in different pars of the world. In fact, it’s the reason why Facebook can’t get a foothold in Japan.

So the recent discussion around a government issued Internet ID is getting some attention and it will certainly be of interest to Internet marketers. The possibility was first reported by Cnet. CBS News followed with

President Obama is putting plans in motion to give the Commerce Department authority to create an Internet ID for all Americans, a White House official told CNET.com.

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt told the website it is “the absolute perfect spot in the U.S. government” to centralize efforts toward creating an “identity ecosystem” for the Internet.

After I got past the cold chill that ran up my spine at the prospect of the government “centralizing” online ID information, I decided to read on before drawing any conclusions. I wish I could say I felt better later.

“We are not talking about a national ID card. We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy, and reducing and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords, through creation and use of more trusted digital identities,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said at an event Friday at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, according to CNET.com.

OK. So who is going to house and be responsible for all of this incredibly valuable information? Um, looks like the government to me which means they would have control. After all, as the saying goes, possession is 9/10 of the law.

The CBSNews article ends with this comment

Schmidt stresses that anonymity will remain on the Internet, saying there’s no chance that “a centralized database will emerge.”

OK, I admit that I am a little slow on the uptake at times. But isn’t it inherent in having such system that a database would be needed to manage it? Are we all just going to have to take part in a program that puts everything in one spot under the government’s ‘control’ or is this just a place to park your passwords? Geesh. C’mon man!

From the other side of the coin comes

“The government cannot create that identity infrastructure,” Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology told the website. “If I tried to, I wouldn’t be trusted.”

Well, this is a few months a way from becoming reality (at least that is what is being said today). As Internet marketers though we are going to need to be cognizant of these types of developments moving forward. What if this went the way of “You cannot do any commerce online unless you are in the system”?

No matter how you look at this issue there has to be concerns about the prospect of this actually happening. While the inherent concept regarding privacy makes sense on some level (trying to make the Internet safe) it is not the kind of thing that seems to be able to actually happen without handing over a great deal of control and potential freedom.

There are many avenues that this ‘conversation’ could take and I am having a hard time wondering which one of them is good. As a marketer, do you have any thoughts on what would the good the bad or the ugly for such a thing as the government’s Internet ID?

PostScript:

On January 21, 2011 we received an e-mail from the US Commerce Department with some ‘corrections’. Of course, based on the subject line of the e-mail you wonder what they were thinking at all. Th original post was put up on January 10, 2011 but maybe the Commerce Department can tell the future? Here’s what I mean.

Attn: Frank Reed
Re: Article titled “Would Government Issued Internet ID Hamper Online Commerce?” published 1/22/11

The rest of the e-mail is below which addresses the apparent wrongs from the original post. For your reading pleasure:

I would appreciate if you could forward this message to the appropriate editor/author of this story. The U.S. Commerce Department would like to request a correction, as we have noticed a few inaccuracies that we would like to clarify.

The heading of this article refers to a “Government issued Internet ID” and text farther down suggests the government would “house and be responsible for” people’s personally identifiable information.

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) does not call for the government to manage the use of trusted IDs for the Internet. Rather, it calls for leadership from the private sector to develop new authentication technologies. Private-sector organizations will represent the majority of service providers and have the incentives as well as the market experience necessary to build, promote, operate and maintain an “Identity Ecosystem” – a set of improved methods and standards of practice that allow for more secure and privacy-enhancing ways to conduct sensitive online transactions. The principal role of the U.S. government is to facilitate and catalyze the private sector’s efforts and to protect individuals by ensuring that the Identity Ecosystem meets the guiding principles laid out in the NSTIC.

The U.S. government also will not mandate that people obtain an “Identity Ecosystem” credential. However, individuals who choose to participate would enjoy more privacy, greater convenience – since they would no longer have to keep track of dozens of usernames and passwords – and more security from fraud and identity theft. Similarly, online service providers who opt in will be able to reduce inefficiencies and fraud losses because they can better trust that participating consumers are who they say they are. An Identity Ecosystem credential would allow individuals to choose among multiple identity providers — both private and public — and among multiple digital credentials. Such a marketplace will ensure that no single credential or centralized database can emerge.

The story later references a quote by Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Unfortunately, Jim Dempsey was badly misquoted in other stories this article draws on. In fact, he wrote a blog post recently to clear up his quote and other misconceptions about this project. See his post here: http://www.cdt.org/blogs/jim-dempsey/new-urban-myth-internet-id-scare.

I encourage your writers/editors to visit www.nist.gov/nstic to help answer any additional questions. Feel free to contact me as well.

Thanks so much for your time.

Shira Kramer
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of Public Affairs
U.S. Department of Commerce
skramer@doc.gov

  • http://www.visibleinter.net/ Visible

    It doesn’t matter what it’s “going to be used for”. What matters is what it “could be used for”. It sounds innocuous on the surface. But once they get this, they can do anything they want, like block access to certain parties. Since when does the govt care about individual privacy? There was a time when anyone could just hop on a plane without having someone rummage through your undies. This is just another power grab.

  • http://www.foredigel.org beli foredi

    Nice info, i study this matter.

    Denis

  • Ann Williams

    Shaking in my iBoots here, I say, “112th Congress, stop it NOW!” Anything the government, particularly THIS one, does to regulate, centralize, overtake, or otherwise mess with, casts a great DOOM shadow over our personal and civil freedoms. I’ll protect my own privacy, thank you very much.

  • Cynthia

    If an internet ID can be used to easily track people who are using the internet to threaten and harass or to quickly locate someone posting frighting messages like some of our recent shooters, I wouldn’t mind giving up some of my own privacy.

    Also, I would love to have a central ID for ecommerce so I didn’t have to keep typing in my name, address and credit card info over and over again.

    • john

      you can track someone right now without this……..they want to start gaining control over a database of US citizens

  • K

    Good post.

    I heard about this a few years ago and had an idea to prevent it but I didnt think it would actually happen. Looks like its very possible though, unfortunately.

    I have an idea that would stop it and potentially benefit us.
    @ Frank or anyone else email me if you wanna work with me to stop this.

    For the benefit of passwords is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Ever heard of lastpass or roboform. WTF?

    And “Cynthia’s” post sounds like a troll to me. Upon reading it I immediately thought of this…..
    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/12/dhs-troll-attacks-anti-tsa-website/

    Its the story about the wewontfly.com webmaster tracking comments back to the DHS web server.

  • Patricia

    Next the will be implanting mico chips in new born babies….