A National Online Password?

Well, this is interesting:

President Obama is planning to hand the U.S. Commerce Department authority over a forthcoming cybersecurity effort to create an Internet ID for Americans, a White House official said here today.

It's "the absolute perfect spot in the U.S. government" to centralize efforts toward creating an "identity ecosystem" for the Internet, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt said.

That news, first reported by CNET, effectively pushes the department to the forefront of the issue, beating out other potential candidates including the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. The move also is likely to please privacy and civil liberties groups that have raised concerns in the past over the dual roles of police and intelligence agencies.

Called the "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said, it's not "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."

On the one hand, this is not as Orwellian as it sounds. For all of its privacy flaws, Facebook has normalized being oneself -- and putting personal information about oneself -- on the Internet. In 2004, when the site emerged, it was a novel idea: One profile per person that included her real name, picture, and contact information. Since then, sites like Gravatar have jumped on the bandwagon, allowing one to have a single identity anywhere one goes online.

Still, it seems like online IDs should be implemented by the private sector. It's likely that with the government backing it, more people would join such a program -- but governments don't have the best track record when it comes to improving online security. As details emerge, it will be fascinating to see which side privacy and security experts come down on.

-- Shani O. Hilton