The ITIF, digital identity, and federalism

I just read an editorial by Daniel Castro, the vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and director of the Center for Data Innovation. The opinion piece, published in Government Technology, is entitled “Absent Federal IDs, Digital Driver’s Licenses a Good Start.”

You knew I was going to comment on this one.

Why Daniel Castro supports a national digital ID

Let me allow Castro to state his case.

After Castro identifies the various ways in which people prove identity online, and the drawbacks of these methods, here’s what Castro says about the problem that needs to be addressed:

…poor identity verification is one of the reasons that identity theft is such a growing problem as more services move online. The Federal Trade Commission received 1.4 million reports of identity theft last year, double the number in 2019, with one security research firm estimating $56 billion in losses.

Castro then goes on to state his ideal solution:

The best solution to this problem would be for the federal government to develop an interoperable framework for securely issuing and validating electronic IDs and then direct a federal agency to start issuing these electronic IDs upon request. 

Castro then notes that the federal government has NOT done this:

But in the absence of federal action, a number of states have already begun this work on their own by creating digital driver’s licenses that provide a secure digital alternative to a physical identity document.

Feel free to read the rest of the story.

“Page two.” By Shealah Craighead – The original was formerly from here and is now archived at georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=943922

But for me I’m going to stop right there.

Why Americans oppose mandatory national physical and digital IDs

Castro’s proposal, while ideal from a technological standpoint, doesn’t fully account for the realities of American politics.

Many Americans (regardless of political leanings) are strongly opposed to ANY mandatory national ID system. For example, many Americans don’t want our Social Security Numbers to become mandatory national IDs (even though they are de facto national IDs today). And while the federal government does issue passports, it isn’t mandatory that people GET them.

And many Americans don’t want state driver’s licenses to become mandatory national IDs. I went into this whole issue in great detail in my prior post “How 6 CFR 37 (REAL IDs) exhibits…federalism,” which made the following points:

  1. States are NOT mandated to issue REAL IDs. (And, no citizen is mandated to GET a REAL ID.)
  2. The federal government CAN mandate which IDs are accepted for federal purposes.
  3. Because the federal government can mandate the IDs to use when entering a federal facility or flying at a commercial airport, ALL of the states were eventually “persuaded” to issue REAL IDs. (Of course, it has take nearly two decades, so far, for that persuasion to work, and it won’t work until 2023, or later.)

So, considering all of the background regarding the difficulties in mandating a national PHYSICAL ID, imagine how things would erupt if the federal government mandated a national DIGITAL ID.

It wouldn’t…um…fly.

Transportation Security Administration Checkpoint at John Glenn Columbus International Airport. By Michael Ball – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77279000

And this is why some states are moving ahead on their own with mobile driver’s licenses.

LA Wallet Louisiana Digital Driver’s License. lawallet.com.

However, there’s a teeny tiny catch: while the states can choose to mandate that their mDLs be accepted at the STATE level, states cannot mandate that their digital identities be used for FEDERAL purposes.

Here we go again.

Of course, federal government agencies are starting to look at the issues with a mobile version of a “REAL ID,” including the standard(s) to which any mobile ID used for federal purposes must adhere.

Improving Digital Identity Act of 2020, or 2021, or 2025…

While the government agencies are doing this work, another government agency (the U.S. Congress) is also working on this. Castro mentions Rep. Bill Foster’s H.R. 8215, introduced in the last Congress. I’m not sure why he bothered to introduce it in September 2020, when Congress wasn’t going to do anything with it. As you may have heard, we had an election at that time.

Of course, he just reintroduced it last month, so now there’s more of a chance that it will be considered. Or maybe not.

Regardless, the “Improving Digital Identity Act” proposes the creation of a task force at the federal level with federal, state participants, and local participants. It also mandates that NIST create a digital identity “framework,” with an interim version available 240 days after the Act is passed. Among other things, the ACT also mandates that NIST Special Publication 800-63 become “binding operational directives” for federal agencies.

(Does that mean that it will be illegal to mandate password changes every 90 days? Woo hoo!)

Should this Act actually pass at some point, its directives will need to be harmonized with what the Department of Homeland Security is already doing, and of course with what the states are already doing.

Oh, and remember my reference to the DHS’ work in this area? Among those who have submitted verbal and/or written comments, several (primarily from privacy organizations) have stated that the government should NOT be promoting ANY digital ID at all. The sentiments in this written comment, submitted anonymously, are all too common.

There are a lot of security and privacy concerns with accepting digital ID’s. First and foremost, drivers licenses contain a lot of sensitive information. If digital ID’s are accepted, then it could potentially leak that info to hackers if it is not secured properly. Plus, there is the added concern that using digital ID’s will lead to extra surveillance where unnecesary. Finally, digital ID will not allow individuals who are poorer to be abele to submit an ID because they might not have access to the same facilities. I am strongly against this rule and I do NOT think that digital ID should be an option.

I expect other privacy organizations to submit comments that may be better-written, but they echo the same sentiment.

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