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The Internet’s Trust Issues: White House Officials Work on Secure Online Identities

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt, Photo: commerce.gov, whitehouse.gov

Top White House officials are attempting to smooth out one of the still-untamed aspects of the Wild, Wild West atmosphere of the Internet: secure online identities.

At a Stanford University forum Friday, leaders from Silicon Valley and the Beltway, including Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt, discussed plans to implement a national strategy for secure cyber identities, including a special office within the Commerce Department.

“The Internet will not reach its full potential until users and consumers feel more secure and confident than they do today when they go online,” Locke said. “A coordinated national strategy to significantly improve online trust will put e-commerce on stronger footing.”

The National Program Office, established within the Commerce Department, will coordinate efforts to implement the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, a major policy recommendation of a high-profile cybersecurity review initiated shortly after President Barack Obama took office.

The NSTIC would create what Schmidt called a secure opt-in “identity ecosystem,” which will focus on improving efforts to authenticate all aspects of online transactions — individuals and organizations as well as  architecture, such as servers and routers.

“This identity ecosystem would instill greater confidence in online transactions with less personal information being collected and stored with each transaction, lowering the risk of identity theft,” Schmidt said.

The secure environment could eventually provide a trusted spot for online banking, e-commerce and e-health records, Locke said.

But, he also sought to assuage the fears of some privacy advocates.

“We are not talking about a national ID card,” he said, according to a report on PCMag.com. “We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy.” He added Internet users, for example bloggers, could still choose to remain anonymous on the web.

The Commerce Department said it will hold workshops later this year to highlight the NSTIC initiatives.

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