Key agencies join digital ID alliance

Two leading federal agencies have joined an alliance of organizations working to address digital identity challenges.

The General Services Administration and the Defense Department's Defense Manpower Data Center have joined the Liberty Alliance Project, a consortium of more than 160 organizations and companies developing standards for electronically managing identity data.

Liberty Alliance specifications could play a key role in helping agencies authenticate the identity of individuals and organizations that want to conduct business with the government using the Internet.

GSA's move is significant because it is responsible for developing and implementing a governmentwide infrastructure for authentication services.

It remains to be seen whether GSA's membership will help advance the government's e-Authentication services, said Steve Timchak, GSA's program manager for e-Authentication, one of the Bush administration's 24 e-government initiatives.

GSA officials want to play a key role in the alliance. "We want to influence future releases of specifications" by providing policy and technical expertise, he said.

GSA joined the alliance because "industry and government have the same concerns addressing identity management," Timchak said. Those mutual concerns include issues such as single sign-on, where users log on to a network once to access multiple services that they are authorized to use, as well as the management of user credentials across multiple systems.

GSA's membership in the alliance ties the government's authentication initiatives to those of the commercial sector, agreed Kevin Cunningham, vice president of marketing and co-founder of Waveset Technologies Inc., a developer of identity management software and a Liberty Alliance member. Northrop Grumman Information Technology resells Waveset software to federal agencies.

The data center joined Liberty Alliance because it is involved in several projects requiring digital authentication, agency officials said.

The center collects and maintains critical information for DOD, including automated power, personnel, training and financial databases. It also is spearheading the effort to distribute DOD's Common Access Card to nearly 3.5 million people agencywide. The card is designed to be the standard identification for access to DOD facilities and networks.

The agency will bring to the alliance its expertise and experience with stringent security, said Troy Donley, Waveset's director of federal sales. DOD "will raise the [security] bar" for other alliance members, he said.

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At a glance

Federated network

The Liberty Alliance Project, a consortium of public and private organizations, is working to develop standards for electronically managing identity information across a federated network.

What does this mean?

"A federated network identity model will enable every business or user to manage [the] data and ensure that the use of critical personal information is managed and distributed by the appropriate parties, rather than a central authority," according to a report on the Liberty Alliance Project Web site.

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