Digital ID bill sees action in the House and Senate

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A bill from Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and its Senate companion would raise the federal government's profile in the digital ID ecosystem.

A bill meant to ramp up federal government participation in the digital identity ecosystem is inching closer to passage. The bill is poised to be advanced by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and a Senate version was just introduced.

The bipartisan "Improving Digital Identity Act" was first introduced by Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) in 2020, but never never voted out of committee. It also didn't get a Senate version in that session of Congress. Foster reintroduced the measure last year. 

In the House, the committee recessed on Thursday before finishing officially recorded votes to report Foster's bill and others out of the committee. That will happen when the committee picks back up on the markup, a committee aid confirmed with FCW.

Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) along with Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo) introduced a Senate counterpart on Wednesday.

The bill includes a few deliverables but the main impact will likely be felt from its proposed policy shift that puts the federal government more squarely in the digital ID business.

The legislation pushes the federal government to use existing authority to help Amerians "prove who they are online," by providing opt-in ID validation services that "augment private sector digital identity and authentication solutions." 

The bill would also set up a task force on digital identity and establish a grant program at the Department of Homeland Security to support the creation of interoperable identity credentialing systems for digital identity verification on the state and local level. 

This all comes in the midst of a government still grappling with increased identity fraud since the start of the pandemic. Identity fraud losses shot up from $16.9 billion in 2019 to $56 billion in 2020, according to Javelin Strategy and Research.

The exact toll on government pandemic programs isn't yet known, although inspectors general focused on overseeing the government's pandemic response have stated that identity theft needs to be "among the highest priorities of federal agencies."

Sticky problems remain, though, particularly with the ability of federal agencies to do digital identity proofing for critical government services.

Jeremy Grant, coordinator of the Better Identity Coalition and former official at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, praised the latest news in a statement.

"So many services – in banking, government, and e-commerce – depend on knowing who is on the other side of a transaction," he said. "But the events of the last few years have made clear that our old identity systems have not transitioned well to the digital world – creating friction in commerce, fueling increased fraud and theft, degrading privacy, and hindering the availability of many services online."

Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) also voiced her support, saying that, "a secure digital identity infrastructure is an essential foundation to American economic and national security."

The committee's top Republican, James Comer (R-Ky.), said that he's opposed to the grant program included in the bill, and stated displeasure with the timeline set up by the bill, where the task force would issue a final report in three years. 

"Improved and expanded digital identity technologies may well play an important role in reducing fraud, but this bill would only give the appearance of action," he said.

Lummis said in a press release that, "it doesn't make sense that Americans have to constantly overshare sensitive identity information with government agencies and businesses, which are honeypots all too often targeted by hackers and identity thieves."

The bill marked up in the House and introduced in the Senate appear to be identical, according to Senate text released by the coalition, but does include some changes from the one originally introduced by Foster. 

The revisions include an emphasis on ensuring equitable access to digital identity verification.

"The effectiveness of existing government digital identity approaches presents causes for concern, particularly with the use of facial recognition technology in federal, state and local government contacts with private sector companies," said Maloney during the markup.

The bill also has a new section prohibiting the task force from recommending the creation of a single identity credential or a central national identification registry, as well as "a requirement that any individual be forced to use digital identity verification for a given public purpose."

If passed, the law would also require the Office of Management and Budget to issue guidance to agencies to implement chosen recommendations from the task force and release a report on the state of identity verifications services offered by agencies with additional recommendations.