Digital identity bill heads to the Senate floor

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The Senate version referred out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee does differ from past versions of the Improving Digital Identity Act by removing the provision for a new DHS grant program.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a proposal meant to put the government more squarely in the digital identity space out of committee on Wednesday. The next stop for the legislation is the Senate floor. 

The proposal was originally introduced in 2020 by Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and reintroduced by Foster along with Reps. John Katko (R-N.Y.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Barry Loudermilk, (R-Ga.) in 2021. 

The House Oversight and Reform Committee reported it out of committee in July, the same month Sens. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo) introduced a Senate version. 

The bill referred out of the Senate committee Wednesday does make one notable change from earlier versions. The current version removes a provision that would establish a grant program at the Department of Homeland Security to fund upgrades to identity credentialing systems at the state and local level. 

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said he opposed the grants program, when the bill was marked up  in July.

Still, the bill would have the federal government take a more active role in helping Amerians "prove who they are online," by providing opt-in ID validation services that "augment private sector digital identity and authentication solutions,” as the text reads.

If passed, it would establish a task force on digital identity to work through how government agencies can validate identity attributes and what interoperable digital identity tools would look like.

The task force would also identify any needed funding, including whether there’s a need for a grant program to implement recommendations and facilitate the development of interoperable systems for digital identity.

In an interview with FCW earlier this year, Foster emphasized the advantage of having a standardized way for people to validate digital identity, as well as the potential impact of such a system for cutting down on fraud fueled by identity theft.

“If we had the standards for how you authenticate yourself to the government online and they had been widely adopted prior to COVID, a huge fraction of the identity fraud would have been prevented,” he said.

Jeremy Grant, coordinator of the Better Identity Coalition, a trade group focusing on digital authentication policy, also pointed to fraud, saying “the timing of this bill is critical, given that criminals and other adversaries have caught up with many of the systems America has used for remote identity proofing and verification,” in a comment.

“We’re hopeful that this strong bipartisan action creates momentum to pass this bill into law before the end of the year,” he continued.