US Government introduces ‘online ID cards’

The United States government, fresh from its bungling of the Obamacare rollout is thinking about tackling a new project which may make the Obamacare fiasco look like a picnic. The White House wants to create a single, secure, online ID that citizens can use as verification across multiple websites. The initial foray will be modest- two state’s government websites. Where it will go from there is anybody’s guess. Let’s explore this controversy in more detail.

The two states at the vanguard of the rollout are Michigan and Pennsylvania. They will target public programs such as welfare using the ubiquitous IDs. The government argues that this ID system will stem the costs of programs and eradicate fraud. It will, they say, eliminate duplication of multiple IDs for agencies- thus less red tape. But at what cost? With the NSA’s nefarious history of overreach and in light of the government’s less than stellar performance history with data gathering, is it a good Idea? You will have to be the ultimate arbiter.

The danger, of course, is that the program will morph beyond government use and will encroach on the private domain. This so-called “driver’s license for the internet”  may ultimately replace the many logins and passwords that people use to access content and participate in forums. It may well be that the gatekeepers of the IDs won’t be the government but private companies. This shouldn’t necessarily be a cause for glee. Suppose the IDs are controlled by Google or Verizon, for example. Do you really want to share information with them about every site you visit? And how will private enterprise firms behave with the new-found clout of government authorization?

Then there’s the issue of security. How dangerous will it be to have all user information stored in a central location? Seems like an easy target for hackers or for overzealous law enforcement agencies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sounded an alarm calling the program ‘radical’ and ‘concerning’. They further state that the proposal “makes scant mention of the unprecedented threat such a scheme would pose to privacy and speech online.”

For BestVPN,  a website devoted to privacy and a supporter of virtual private networks the controversy is intriguing, will this promote more VPN usage? Will new technologies emerge to protect user identities? Interesting thoughts.

I don’t know about you but I’m skeptical about this being the way to go given the government’s track record in such things. It’s shaping up to be a raucous battle between proponents and antagonists of First Amendment (free speech) and Fourth Amendment (unlawful search and seizure, read warrantless searches). Could be raw meat in the upcoming midterm elections and thereafter. Which brings up an interesting point. What if it was put to a vote? On which side would you be?

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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