Group urges U.S. to adopt electronic ID cards for citizens

Thursday, September 15, 2011
By Paul Martin


As the Obama administration works on a set of voluntary online credentials for American Web surfers, some technologists say the government should examine Estonia’s mandatory electronic identification cards as a model.

In the United States, opposition to national ID cards has long prevented the government from assigning citizens electronic credentials for online authentication purposes. But, certain aspects of e-credentials may protect personal information better than the passwords and PIN numbers people currently use for online transactions, according to some privacy groups, including the Center for Technology and Democracy.

A study on international e-identification efforts released Thursday by the nonprofit Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, noted that, “As of 2011, over 90 percent of the population in Estonia had an e-ID. . . In contrast, as of 2011, the United States does not have a national e-ID system. Most individuals still use a collection of poorly secured usernames and passwords to access online services.”

Most Americans do not have a way to prove they are who they say they are online. This spring, the administration took a step toward developing voluntary digital IDs, with a venture called the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. The public-private initiative, headed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is aimed at allowing Americans to transact with any secure website using one ID, without the need to repeatedly submit personal information.

Estonia began issuing mandatory e-IDs in 2002 as a means of improving government services, as well as commercial services. Some cities use the cards as fare passes for public transportation. Estonian citizens have been able to elect government officials online since 2005 with their cards. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves estimates 98 percent of banking transactions take place on the Internet.

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