Report suggests ID alternatives

National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council

A national identification system is one approach to strengthening identity

security, but a white paper published by a coalition of government organizations

also proposes a "confederated" system in which Americans could use multiple

identifiers for clusters of agencies and/or businesses.

This approach would enable individuals to sign on to an account once

and have access to different accounts among several entities they commonly

transact with, according to the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating

Council's (NECCC) white paper.

Agencies and companies would have to develop policies, procedures and

an interoperable technical framework to support such an arrangement. The

advantage to this system over a national ID system is that no single identifier

would follow an individual everywhere. Another advantage is that there is

no single point of failure like that in a national ID system, in which there

would be centralized control.

"An organized, confederated system would not necessarily have as its

goal to establish a single business model across all 50 states," according

to the white paper. "Rather, it could allow states to maintain their own

processes, yet establish criteria to provide consistent levels of trust

in the various credentialing systems that states have established. Determining

exactly what metrics would result in such a trust, however, would be a considerable

undertaking, but one worth investigating."

NECCC, a consortium that promotes e-government, released the identity

management white paper during its sixth annual conference in New York City

Dec. 4-6. It did not recommend one approach over the other, but said they

should be explored further.

Because of national security and identity fraud concerns, governments

are grappling with how best to issue valid and tamper-proof IDs and authenticate

identities while preserving privacy and personal liberties.

A single national system could involve storing personal information

— such as fingerprints — of every citizen in a large database and issuing

ID cards that would be used across the public and private sector.

Privacy experts contend that such a database smacks of Big Brother.

A national system has some precedence around the world, but with uneven

results, said Daniel Greenwood, who directs the Massachusetts Institute

of Technology's e-commerce architecture program and helped lead and draft

the white paper for NECCC.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has been leading

an effort to strengthen state driver's licenses, which are considered the

de facto national ID card. Although that group doesn't advocate a national

system, it wants states to adopt minimum security standards — such as personal

data or biometric identifiers embedded in the cards — as a way to prevent

identity theft and fraud.

A coalition of companies known as the Liberty Alliance Project is developing

the framework for a confederated approach, including a network identity

and authentication sharing mechanism. The project would entail developing

business agreements among different organizations so they can mutually recognize

authentication. Such a system would help boost confidence along with e-commerce,

representatives said.

The group has about 45 dues-paying sponsors and another 90 affiliate

and associate members. The group is looking to collaborate with governments

and other public-sector agencies that would not be charged membership fees.

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