Call It Your Online Driver’s License
WHO’S afraid of Internet fraud?
Consumers who still pay bills via snail mail. Hospitals leery of making treatment records available online to their patients. Some state motor vehicle registries that require car owners to appear in person — or to mail back license plates — in order to transfer vehicle ownership.
But the White House is out to fight cyberphobia with an initiative intended to bolster confidence in e-commerce.
The plan, called the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace and introduced earlier this year, encourages the private-sector development and public adoption of online user authentication systems. Think of it as a driver’s license for the Internet. The idea is that if people have a simple, easy way to prove who they are online with more than a flimsy password, they’ll naturally do more business on the Web. And companies and government agencies, like Social Security or the I.R.S., could offer those consumers faster, more secure online services without having to come up with their own individual vetting systems.
“What if states had a better way to authenticate your identity online, so that you didn’t have to make a trip to the D.M.V.?” says Jeremy Grant, the senior executive adviser for identity management at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the agency overseeing the initiative.
But authentication proponents and privacy advocates disagree about whether Internet IDs would actually heighten consumer protection — or end up increasing consumer exposure to online surveillance and identity theft.