OMB’s New ID Policy Will Help Consumers Protect Their Identities Online

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America should modernize our existing paper-based identification systems around a privacy-protecting, consumer-centric digital model.

Opening new accounts. Updating records. Paying your bills. As Americans do more and more online, our digital identities are becoming increasingly important.

Unfortunately, our current systems for verifying and protecting those identities are outdated. Adversaries have caught up with the first-generation systems that businesses and government have used for digital identity proofing and verification, leading to millions of fraud victims and billions of dollars in losses.

With a focus on changing these trends, more than 15 companies banded together last year to launch the Better Identity Coalition. Last July, the Coalition released Better Identity in America: A Blueprint for Policymakers, with a core recommendation that the best way to address digital identity challenges is not by creating new identity systems. Instead, America should modernize our existing paper-based identification systems—think Social Security cards and driver’s licenses—around a privacy-protecting, consumer-centric digital model that allows consumers to ask the agency that issued a credential to stand behind it in the online world.  

Against that backdrop, we were encouraged to see the White House Office of Management and Budget release a new identity policy memo echoing that recommendation, calling for agencies to offer improved digital identity solutions.

Per that memo:  

“Agencies that are authoritative sources for attributes (e.g., SSN) utilized in identity proofing events, as selected by OMB and permissible by law, shall establish privacy-enhanced data validation APIs for public and private sector identity proofing services to consume, providing a mechanism to improve the assurance of digital identity verification transactions based on consumer consent.”

Consumer consent and privacy are essential here: the idea is that consumers can ask an agency that issued them a paper credential to vouch for them online. It’s the start of shifting the predominant model for identity verification from one based on entities aggregating personal data without opt-in consent to one where consumers proactively request that their data be validated for the sole purpose of verifying identity.  

This new directive from the White House is a critical step, and it lays the policy foundation for a new array of more secure, privacy-enhanced digital identity solutions to help consumers better protect their identities and more easily do business online. But the work does not stop here. It will be important for OMB and agencies to take concrete steps to operationalize this policy, including creating strong standards to ensure that government can deliver these services in a way that is secure, designed around the needs of consumers, and protects privacy.   

One way to get started: Use digital identity work already underway at the Social Security Administration as a template for other agency offerings. SSA just last week released details on their plans to establish a new Electronic Consent Based Social Security Number Verification, or eCBSV, service, with launch set for June 2020.  

Under this new system, SSA will provide a “yes/no” answer as to whether a given name, SSN and date of birth provided by a consumer to a bank at account opening matches what SSA has in its systems—if consumers authorize SSA to provide this answer. It’s a model that could be replicated at other agencies looking to support the new OMB policy.  

Better identity solutions are on the horizon. OMB’s new policy has laid the groundwork for a new array of digital identity solutions that will enable Americans to enjoy the convenience of doing everyday tasks online without compromising privacy and security.

Jeremy Grant is managing director of technology business strategy at Venable and coordinator of the Better Identity Coalition.