Bipartisan House Bill Targets Improving Digital Identity Verification

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Lawmakers aim to help confront and curb identity theft through strategic modernization.

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House Friday would jumpstart a governmentwide effort to upgrade America’s digital identity ecosystem and puzzle out a path to make it easier and safer for people to prove that they are who they say they are online.

If passed, the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2020 would create an interagency task force of local, state and federal officials to produce a comprehensive, standards-based approach to digital identity verification and help catalyze the use of related interoperable tools across the public and private sectors. 

The bill was introduced by Reps. Bill Foster, D-Ill., John Katko, R-NY, Jim Langevin, D-RI, and Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga.

“Whether logging into an email account or checking test results from a doctor, people rely on their digital identities every day. Yet even as the range of online services continues to expand, the most authoritative form of ID remains the decidedly analog driver’s license,” Langevin said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic and our increased reliance on the internet to accomplish everyday tasks has made it abundantly clear that we should build out our digital identity infrastructure.”

Lawmakers explicitly aim to confront identity theft and fraud through the legislation, which details that “losses resulting from identity fraud amounted to” more than $16 billion in 2019. Though at least one state has made moves toward implementing digital IDs, America continues to rely heavily on paper- and plastic-based credentials that weren’t made to mesh well with online authentication and can be vulnerable to breaches. 

Foster—who last year led a House Financial Services Committee hearing titled, "Future of Identity in Financial Services"—called the bill a “much needed first step to ensuring the United States catches up with the developed world on digital identity." 

The legislation would launch a task force of officials representing state and local governments and multiple federal agencies including the departments of Education, Treasury and State, the General Services Administration and others—including some not listed but who may be designated by the president. The group would be tasked with crafting a standards-based architecture for agencies to follow when providing secure digital identity verification services, considering whether government organizations should implement fee-based models when supplying the private sector with those services, evaluating existing risks that could be exploited in such work—and more. 

Under the bill, the National Institute of Standards and Technology would need to work with the task force and others to create a comprehensive framework for state, local and federal agencies to follow when delivering digital identity-related services. The lawmakers leave room for that framework to be updated and evolve over time. 

The act would also direct the Homeland Security Department to issue grants paving the way for states to update systems they use to provide driver's licenses or other types of identity credentials—and advance the development of new digital identity verification-enabling systems.

Those mandates make up what the lawmakers called a “three-pronged approach” to modernization.

Beyond that, the bill would also direct the comptroller general to produce a full report on all government regulatory requirements governing the use of Social Security numbers. Further, if it’s passed, the Homeland Security Department would also be required to issue binding operational directives to federal agencies, implementing two previously introduced government guides related to digital identity management.   

The legislation was referred to the Committees on Oversight and Reform, Science, Space, and Technology, and Ways and Means on the day it was introduced. 

The Better Identity Coalition, which produced its own policy recommendations on digital identity back in 2018, published a statement in support of the bill upon its release.

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