New office to lead secure transactions initiative

Monday - 1/10/2011, 6:43am EST

By Meg Beasley
Reporter
Federal News Radio

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt announced the formation of a National Program Office to oversee the administration's national strategy for trusted identities in cyberspace. The new office will coordinate with industry to create an online environment in which sensitive transactions are less risky.

Schmidt and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced the new office Friday at a forum with industry leaders and academics hosted by Stanford University.

The National Program Office, which will be set up in the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, will be in charge of coordinating efforts between the government and private industry. While the government will provide leadership, coordination and collaboration, Schmidt said it needs industry to innovate and implement new technologies.

The office is the latest step in a process begun when the President announced a cybersecurity review in 2009. That review prompted the creation of the National Strategy for Secure Identity in Cyberspace (NSTIC). Schmidt released the initial draft last June.

The strategy is meant to develop a comprehensive identity ecosystem - an online environment where individuals, organizations, services and devices can trust each other because authoritative sources establish and authenticate their digital identities. The administration said privacy protection, voluntary participation and interoperability will be key components of the ecosystem.

"With the full participation of industry and the general public, NSTIC plans to nurture the development of a secure and privacy-enhancing identity ecosystem for the Internet," Schmidt said at the forum. "This identity ecosystem would instill greater confidence in online transactions with less personal information being collected and stored with each transaction, lowering the risk of identity theft."

While Schmidt explained what NSTIC could mean for users, Locke described what it would not.

"We are not talking about a national ID card," Locke said. "We are not talking about a government controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords."

Locke added that creating a more secure online environment was crucial to helping the Internet reach its full potential. The administration estimates that e-commerce worldwide is worth $10 trillion of business online annually. In the third quarter of 2010 alone, the administration said e-commerce sales accounted for more than $41 billion--up 13.6 percent over the same period last year.

Given the importance of online business, Schmidt said that Commerce "is the absolute perfect spot in the U.S. government to help run this National Program Office." The office will work with the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration to implement NSTIC.

Later this year, the Commerce Department plans to hold a workshop to highlight the existing initiatives in this strategy.

The new office also received kudos from lawmakers and industry associations. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) welcomed the new office and promised to work closely with Commerce to protect Americans' online identities and transactions. Rockefeller said he would introduce legislation to address the challenges in securing cyberspace.

Phil Bond, CEO of TechAmerica, which co-hosted the event, said in a release that the government recognizes that the technology industry must drive implementation of the national strategy. Bond added that the government needs to establish an even stronger public-private partnership by creating a private sector advisory committee for the program office.

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