The White House is planning on developing new ways to make the Internet and cyberspace a safer environment for its users, but before they put their final plans into action, they want some help from the public. Last Friday, Howard Schmidt, the White House's Cybersecurity Coordinator and Special Assistant to President Obama, released a preliminary plan that the White House aims to enact as an avenue to reduce the vulnerabilities in security and privacy of consumers on the Internet.
The plan, formally labeled the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), was released by Schmidt on the White House's website via a blog post. The NSTIC is a proposal to create unique online identities for individuals that would be their virtual “fingerprints” that only they could use. These online identities would be used for online transactions in an effort to protect users from fraud, identity theft, and other security breaches that are now commonplace in the online world.
The NSTIC plan released on Friday is only the first draft outlining the proposal. Several government agencies, privacy advocates, and leaders in the business world aided in drafting the proposal. To fine tune it, the White House has made an open forum online for the general public to express their thoughts on the idea, and how it could be improved before being made final.
In Schmidt's blog post, he urged readers to visit http://www.nstic.ideascale.com/. The site was developed by and is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, and it has the actual NSTIC draft so that the public can read it and form their own opinions. Once finished, there is a section on the website dedicated to feedback and ideas. Everyone can post their ideas and read those of others.
Commenting on the ideas posted is encouraged, and there is an option to agree or disagree with each post. The most popular and agreed-upon posts rise to the top of the site. The site is open for feedback until July 19, 2010. At that point, the Department of Homeland Security will collect the best ideas so that the official policy makers can decide on how to prepare the final plan of action, which is set to be released later this fall.
The NSTIC was specifically devised as a response to President Obama's previously released Cyberspace Policy Review. If accepted, the NSTIC would create what is referred to as an “identity ecosystem.” This ecosystem is essentially a safe environment for consumers and providers to conduct online transactions with a lessened threat of privacy invasion or fraud. Using trusted unique digital identities would create a situation that would be much more difficult for hackers to tap into.
Consumers would have the option to get their digital credential through a variety of different service providers, and it would likely be in the form of a smart card or digital certificate, among other forms as well. Consumers would be able to customize their digital identities in terms of how much they would reveal about themselves during each transaction. This would make the system more user-centric and help to ease their concerns about privacy.
Of course, privacy is a major issue that many opponents of such a proposal bring up. Requiring a person to have their own individual fingerprint or identity would give the government another vehicle to monitor them. With the unpopularity of the Patriot Act, which was seen as a way for “Big Brother” to tap into the private lives of individuals, the NSTIC may be frowned upon by some.
When the final draft is released this fall, it should be interesting to see how the collection of public ideas influenced its formation. It should also be interesting to see whether or not it becomes mandatory to use. If it does, there is sure to be plenty of public outrage, even though others may embrace it.
For more on this topic, visit: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20008998-38.html
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