US digital identity bill passes through to Senate

By on 06/04/2023 | Updated on 06/04/2023

An interagency task force whose job would be to support “reliable, interoperable digital identity verification in the public and private sectors” could be established by the US federal government after a Senate committee vote.

The legislation behind the task force, known as the Improving Digital Identity Act, was passed by the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week in a vote of 11-1. It now moves on to the full Senate for debate.

The legislation notes that there is no easy, affordable method for government agencies and businesses to verify whether an individual is who they purport to be online, allowing cyber criminals to more easily access personal data.

“The inadequacy of current digital identity solutions degrades security and privacy for all people in the United States, and next generation solutions are needed that improve security, privacy, equity, and accessibility,” the bill reads.

It says the government is “uniquely positioned to deliver critical components that address deficiencies in the digital identity infrastructure of the United States and augment private sector digital identity and authentication solutions”.

Read more: Finding your identity: how three governments are developing digital ID

It is hoped the creation of an online verification method would empower government agencies and the private sector to reduce the “significant risk” tied to opening new accounts, as well as securing privacy around “high-risk, high-value” online services.

The bill was introduced in response to a call from the bipartisan Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity for federal agencies to act as “an authoritative source to validate identity attributes” across the digital ID market. If it is passed, an Improving Digital Identity Task Force would be established to help ensure citizens’ privacy and security.

The legislation’s passage joins nearly two dozen critical cyber bill approvals, including the bipartisan Securing Open Source Software Act, which would legally bind the federal government to protecting open-source software like ChatGPT.

US poised for national digital ID rollout

The passing of the Improving Digital Identity Act to the next stage of debate follows the leak in February of the draft terms of a draft executive order which outlined that the US federal government’s Login .gov digital identity service could be expanded nationally.

The draft US White House order obtained by federal technology title FCW tasks the General Services Administration with scaling up its Login .gov identity verification and authentication service – which enables users to access numerous government services using a single login – increasing its reach to the whole country.

Under the order, which cannot become policy until it is signed by president Joe Biden and has yet to be released by the White House, users of public benefits programmes would be given the option to use Login .gov or a digital ID platform run by the individual agency. It aims to reduce fraud in the benefits system.

Read more: Digital ID: US government poised for national rollout

Jamaica to raise public awareness around national digital ID

Elsewhere, the Jamaican government has said it is preparing to launch an awareness campaign for its digital ID National Identification System (NIDS).

The NIDS will involve the issuance of “a unique lifelong national identification number” to citizens and people based in the country and will eventually be “the primary source for identity assurance and verification [for] improved governance and management of social, economic and security programmes,” the government said.

Jamaica does not currently have a central national database capable of securely storing reliable identity data for verification and authentication. According to the government, “individuals can assume multiple identities” under the fragmented system in which people can be issued numerous different ID numbers based on differing standards, and in which data cannot be shared easily or, at times, legally.

Nigel Clark, Jamaica’s minister of finance and public service, said a procurement process to find a partner that will drive the awareness campaign is being worked up in collaboration with the Inter-American Bank (IAB), which has lent the Jamaican government its support on the digital ID project.

This news follows the rollout of Jamaica’s biometric passport, which began on 31 March. Together, the NIDS and the passport comprise the Jamaican government’s digital innovation package, which aim to protect the country’s sovereignty and ensure high quality public services.

Read more: UK government must create digital ID ‘super app’, says top financier

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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