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New digital ID efforts in DC fumble the most critical issue

digital identity KYC security

It is a new year with a new administration in Washington D.C. but the federal government’s approach to digital identification is old and worn.

Rather than address how a meaningful segment of citizens sees them as an adversary, lawmakers continue to push multi-bullet point plans listing forceful sounding action items that are vague and obvious.

Right or wrong, too many Americans do not trust government to act responsibly with their sensitive information — biometric or otherwise. Very limited progress can be had until that condition is corrected.

That looks unlikely, given two recent digital ID news items coming out of Washington.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), told an audience at an event co-hosted by the Better Identity Coalition, the FIDO Alliance, and the ID Theft Resource Center and reported by FCW that he plans to reintroduce a bill he authored last year to “overhaul the country’s fragmentary personal digital identification systems.”

What follows is a tag cloud with verbs. The release mentions standards-based architectures, verification, identity theft, task force, upgraded systems using frameworks, enhanced security.

There are no details backing up the block-and-tackle proposal, and no mention of how he would win over distrustful (and sometimes clinically paranoid) citizens. If nothing else, there are tens of thousands of insurrectionists and millions more sympathizers getting their head around the fact that their smart phones gave up their whereabouts January 6.

Rep. Foster said during the event that his effort this year is more likely to succeed because the White House and Senate have been wrested from Republican control, though the bill was introduced with bi-partisan support last year.

Setting aside a fundamental misreading of sentiments on this issue, he, like many before him, seems to think all that is missing to build a coherent national digital ID infrastructure is for someone to start a domino fall.

Another campaign, this one focused on creating health care privacy and data security rights, is sponsored by 28 Senate and House lawmakers (27 Democrats, one Independent) calls for steps that would, if enacted, go some distance in making government more trustworthy.

But it is a kitchen-sink list of proposed actions, without a focus that might galvanize popular support. An effective elevator pitch this is not.

The so-called Public Health Emergency Privacy Act holds up the specter of more COVID-19 casualties, which, while defensible, links two topics that are dividing the nation: the pandemic and government’s role in the individual’s life.

Big Tech’s tarnished reputation for protecting privacy is mentioned with less talk about the federal government’s missteps and vulnerabilities. But nothing in the campaign specifically tells citizens why the federal government is the best body to tackle health information protection.

Backers know most of the other points to hit with broad brushes. To name a few:

Public health data can only be used for public health. The data cannot be used for profiteering or employment and housing discrimination.

Meaningful data security and data protections are needed. All pandemic-related data must be deleted after the health care emergency.

“Robust private and public enforcement” must be provided. Create regular reports on how data collection affects civil rights.

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