A few months after it initially unveiled the proposal, the Obama Administration has announced that it is moving forward with a federal government Internet ID scheme, with the Commerce Department tapped to create the program.
The effort was condemned back in July when it was first discussed, with complaints about its lack of specifics and major privacy concerns. Far from solving those concerns, the new announcement appears to just rehash the introduction, and still doesn’t seem to offer any concrete benefit to the American public, except for some odd mention that it would mean Americans “won’t have to memorize dozens of passwords.”
The administration insists the program will be purely voluntary, but its ambitions to be the de facto identification standard across the entire internet suggests it would remain so in name only. The benefits of a multi-site ID are clear, but have already been realized with efforts like OpenID without the messy problems created by a federal program.
At first blush the program seems a (sloppy) solution in search of a non-existent problem, but it becomes pretty quickly apparent why the administration wants such a program at all. Officials tout its use as allowing someone to log in to their “anonymous blog” securely, but with the login credentials already tied to a specific American citizen by the US government, in what sense the blog would remain anonymous is unclear.
And that is the real value for officials, who are looking to move against their online opponents in a big way and are openly calling whistleblowers “terrorists.” If the Commerce Department can verify the identities of Internet users at will, it must inevitably have a chilling effect not just on whistleblowing, but general criticism of the administration.