Banking on e-authentication

Banks are getting behind the federal government's E-Authentication initiative, giving a significant push to federal efforts to use electronic identities for e-government and e-commerce, said Steven Timchak, director of the initiative at the General Services Administration.

Speaking today at the Federal Information Assurance Conference in Adelphi, Md., Timchak said that he would soon announce the extent of the banks' participation. "We're meeting daily with major banks" to talk about E-Authentication, he said.

Federal officials plan to rely on the rigorous identity proofing that banks conduct on customers as a basis for identity credentials that people can use to do business online with the federal government. Other credential providers such as universities, airlines and states also will be involved in the E-Authentication initiative, Timchak said.

"We want to trust many credential providers," he said.

Much work remains to reach crucial agreements on business and policy issues, such as how much banks will charge the federal government for using the credentials and how disputes will be resolved, Timchak said.

Another conference speaker said that February 2005 will mark another important milestone in E-Authentication efforts. By then, National Institute of Standards and Technology officials must issue technical standards for a dual-use federal smart cards, said George Schu, vice president of public-sector business at VeriSign Inc.

Smart cards are meant to serve as proof-of-identity for all federal employees and contractors for gaining access to federal buildings, computer networks and information systems. The February deadline was set in a smart card directive known as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, issued in December 2003. The mandatory use of smart cards will have a significant impact, Schu said.

Cryptographic technology on smart cards can create digital signatures on e-forms, he said. The Interior Department — which Schu described as a leader in this area -- has 400 e-forms, including applications for drilling rights on federal land, ready to accept digital signatures, he said.

One date that won't affect E-Authentication and other e-government initiatives is Election Day, Timchak said. Those trends have a momentum that will not be affected by the Nov. 2 election results, regardless of who wins, he said.

"E-government initiatives are here to stay," Timchak said.

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