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Net ID

Imagine what it would be like in a safe and secure Internet world without passwords. Think about all the passwords out there:

  • Bank
  • Credit card(s)
  • Email account(s)
  • Social networking site(s)
  • Shopping sites (Amazon, Overstock, Best Buy, etc.)
  • Gaming sites

And the list goes on and on. How many times do you repeat your passwords, or have a common variation? Of course, you know that’s not a good idea, because once somebody gets a hold of one they can figure out the rest, but there are so many. It’s just easier.

Plus, if you’ve ever forgotten a password, especially for a federal government site like a student loan hub, it can be a difficult problem to fix. Why risk the trouble?

The Facebook Template

So, what if someone came along and told you that, if you wanted, you could choose to have totally secure Internet access anytime you wanted with only one password “ or maybe even none at all? Would you do it?

Well, yes, of course there’s a catch. This kind of peace of mind doesn’t come for free. But, as Americans we are growing more comfortable with making sacrifices on the altar of convenience. So, all you have to do is agree to allow someone to monitor your movement on the Internet.

That may sound like a lot to ask, but if you’re thinking there’s no way you would submit to this Big Brother kind of treatment, there’s a good chance you already have.

Facebook is paving the way for what cyber-savvy individuals call single-point of entry access to the Internet. If you can imagine Facebook also being the central hub for your financial information, you can start to get an idea of the plan.

Privacy settings notwithstanding, Facebook already does a great job of collecting information about the types of consumer items you like: books, movies, music, Internet sites, gadgets, clothes, cars “ everything. Most major brands have a page you can like and if you haven’t tinkered with your settings, or decided not to jump on the bandwagon, Facebook has collected this information.

What’s more, they have cross-referenced it with your friends’ data, as well as with other people in your demographic and outside of it, ad infinitum, to extract the most fruitful purchasing data imaginable so they can then sell it to other companies.

So, you can see how tying your actual purchasing decisions and finances in to this kind of system would be a very attractive idea for companies who make billions catering to “ perhaps even controlling, to some extent “ the online community.

Whose Idea is Net ID?

It’s hard to say whose idea it was, but it’s the Obama Administration that is drafting the legal framework for the project to move forward, with the U.S. Department of Commerce helming the ship.

This National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) will articulate what is needed to provide each U.S. citizen with a unique Internet ID that he or she can use to log in to the computer, which will then give them access to whatever sites are useful without playing the password game for each site.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is quick to assure potential users that this is not a plan to track people’s information or collect data, stating that it is, ¦not a national ID card. It’s reassuring, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is the very foundation of the idea.

What he means to say is that the information will be out there, but it won’t be stored in a way that can be accessed by any individual, or used in a way that would threaten an individual’s privacy. Further, it will not act as your identification, like some kind of super-Passport.

Of course, that’s what they said about the images being captured by the nation’s new airport body scanners. Now, it’s been confirmed tens of thousands of images were stored and used for training purposes by federal enforcement authorities.

The key, as with the airport scanner case, is to ensure that the language of the NSTIC does not contain anything that would make such storage and/or distribution legal.

How Does Net ID Work?

The U.S. military has been issuing cards with unique IDs to its members that allow them access to specific areas on its internal network for years now. The Department of Defense Common Access Card (CAC) is carried by the user and inserted into a reader that is hooked into most individual-use military computers. Once inserted, usually an additional one-time username and password is required, then the individual can access the areas of the database that match the permissions tied to the card.

The planning for a civilian Internet-use only card or certificate is still in its infancy, though, and whether it will actually be the government who installs and monitors the system is a topic of debate. Even conservative watchdog groups have noted that lack of trust of the government would threaten the potential membership of the Identity Ecosystem, therefore undermining the utility of the service.

Some others argue that this is not a Department of Commerce issue at all, and that it is just acting as a figurehead for what will really be running the security show “ the Department of Homeland Security.

That kind of speculation won’t add up to good business for a government-run program. So, that puts us back to a Facebook-style single-point entry system that is provided and managed by a company in the private sector.

Will I Have to Get a National Internet ID?

No. That seems to be one thing that remains pretty clear. This would amount to the government (or some other well-funded company) buying the Internet and forcing everyone to get a membership. That is not what is happening.

The National Internet ID would be something that an individual could opt into to make his or her life easier “ and safer.

There is little doubt that this type of system, in some form, could help lessen incidences of identity theft, fraud, phishing and other kinds of illegal Internet activity. But, some tech wizards think it’s actually impossible, especially with the government at the controls.

Author and network security wonk Mark Gibbs has noted that the U.S. government has failed to secure even its own networks. He suggests that to think it could manage the commerce of the entire Internet is dangerous hubris, and that even if it were manageable it would just increase the incline on an already very slippery slope on the issue of security versus privacy.

Staying in the Here and Now

For those hoping that the Internet will stay as wild and free as it is today, you should remember it does have one thing going for it: its growth appears to be limitless and refuses to be contained.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) gave out its last IP numbers in February 2011, which triggered a need for a new IP format that will allow for trillions of addresses.

This kind of environment demands a kind of quick-footed change the government is not, and should not be, in the business of delivering. And, there’s a good chance that if a national Internet ID system does come online, the private sector will have some input, if only out of necessity.

Plus, it’s a buyer’s market. Internet vendors will not demand some kind of special ID to access their sites if it hinders the larger population’s access to its goods. So, the only time for real worry will come when more than half the nation decides having an Internet ID is the right thing to do for them.

So, between private sector competition, the likely unwillingness of the marketplace and the Internet’s ever-increasing growth, it looks like an uphill climb for Big Brother, but it always helps to know what it’s planning.

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