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White House Launches Universal Online Password Initiative

The White House Friday released a National Strategy for
Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) initiative that it says will, among
other things, give online users a default level of privacy over sharing
personal information.

The president wants to create an "identify
ecosystem" that will provide a single secure one-time digital password to
log into "any web site." Online surfers would not have to
participate, but if they did they would get a "unique" piece of
software for a smart phone or card or token, obviating the need
to remember multiple passwords.

The goal is to "better protect consumers from fraud and
identity theft, enhance individuals' privacy, and foster economic growth by
enabling industry both to move more services online and to create innovative
new services," the White House said.

But the goal is also to protect online privacy.

"The Identity Ecosystem will provide more security for
consumers; it will also provide better privacy protections.  Today, a vast
amount of information about consumers is collected as they surf the Internet
and conduct transactions," the White House said. "How organizations
handle that information can vary greatly, and more often than not, it is
difficult for consumers to understand how their privacy will (or will not) be
protected.  The NSTIC seeks to drive the development of
privacy-enhancing policies as well as innovative privacy-enhancing technologies
to ensure that the ecosystem provides strong privacy protections for

Online privacy bills were introduced last week and both the
Commerce Department and Federal Trade Commission have focused on providing more
choice and control over online information, including for targeted behavioral

"Although individuals will retain the right to exchange
their personal information in return for services they value," said the
White House, "these protections will provide a default level of privacy
and will enable individuals to form consistent expectations about the treatment
of their information within the ecosystem."

The White House provided this example of how the new identity regime would work:

"Antonio, age 13, visits online chat rooms to talk to other students his age.  His parents give him permission to get an identity credential, stored on a keychain fob, from his school.  The credential verifies his age so that he can visit chat rooms for adolescents, but it does not reveal his birth date, name, or other information.  Nor does it inform the school about his online activities.  Antonio can speak anonymously but with confidence that the other participants are his age."