Gary Locke: Identity Ecosystem Will Help Solve Online 'Trust Issues'

Gary Locke, Photo: Commerce Department

To make the web environment safer for e-commerse and other transactions, the White House last week proposed creating an Identity Ecosystem, where Internet users can use strong, interoperable credentials from public and private service providers to authenticate themselves online for various transactions.

Delivering remarks at Stanford University, Calif., last Friday, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke spoke about the explosion of online transactions, from consumers paying their utility bills from their smartphones to companies ordering goods and paying vendors via the Internet.

E-commerce sales for the third quarter of 2010 were estimated at over $41 billion; up 13.6 percent over the same period last year, Locke said. Additionally, early reports indicate the recent holiday buying season saw similar growth, with year-over-year sales up by more than 13 percent, he added.

“Despite these ongoing successes, the reality is that the Internet still faces something of a ‘trust’ issue,” the secretary said. “And it will not reach its full potential until users and consumers feel more secure than they do today when they go online.”

Locke said dealing with threats such as targeted attacks and sophisticated frauds has been a high priority for President Barack Obama, who called cyber threat “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.”

To help meet these challenges, the Obama administration released a Cyberspace Policy Review, which helped set the groundwork for the forthcoming National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Locke said the final version of the  strategy will be signed by the president in the coming months.

The end game, Locke said, is to create an Identity Ecosystem where individuals and organizations can complete online transactions with greater confidence, having greater trust in the online identities of each other and the infrastructure  transactions run across.

“Let’s be clear: We are not talking about a national ID card,” he continued. “We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy and reducing and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords, through creation and use of more trusted digital identities.”

To accomplish this, industry leadership is essential, Locke said, as well as setting up a National Program Office at the Department of Commerce that is focused on implementing the Trusted Identities Strategy.

“Of course, we all know that these pilot projects, any follow-on commercial deployments, and the emergence of an Identity Ecosystem itself will be no panacea,” Locke said. “There is no magic bullet to solve all cybersecurity issues. However . . . robust identity solutions can substantially enhance the trustworthiness of online transactions. They can not only improve security, but, if done properly, can enhance privacy as well.”

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