September 16, 2009
US Government Open Identity Initiative

White House logoIt’s been an open secret in the identity community for the past several months that the US Government has embarked on an initiative to enable people to sign into US Government web sites using commercial identities. The public announcements of the first steps were made last week during the Gov 2.0 Summit. Now that we can write about the initiative, here’s a personal recap of some of the steps that have gotten us here, and thoughts about what comes next.

  • Then-candidate Barack Obama made a commitment to increase people’s access to government services; President Obama issued his Transparency and Open Government memo reinforcing this commitment on his first day in office.
  • The federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, requested that the GSA do the ground work to enable people to log into US government web sites using commercially-issued identities using open protocols.
  • In parallel to this, the Information Card Foundation, and especially Mary Ruddy, had been working with the GSA on a demo of using Information Cards to sign into government sites. The GSA demonstrated using the Equifax card to sign into a mockup of recovery.gov in April at RSA.
  • In April, the GSA, and in particular, the Identity, Credential, and Access Management (ICAM) committee, communicated the need for certification frameworks for identity technologies and identity providers to be used to access government sites. The OpenID Foundation and Information Card Foundation agreed to develop certification programs for their respective technologies and to work with the GSA on profiles for use of the technologies.
  • Not long thereafter, the OpenID Foundation and Information Card Foundation made a key decision to work together on aspects of the profiles and certification programs that can be common between the two technologies. Don Thibeau, the OIDF executive director, and Drummond Reed, the ICF executive director, get enormous credit for this decision, which I believe has served both communities well.
  • The foundations jointly hired John Bradley to develop profiles for the two technologies. They also hired the same lawyer to look at liability issues.
  • The foundations decided to base their profiles as much as possible on the SAML government profile developed by InCommon, so as not to re-invent the wheel.
  • ICAM published its Identity Scheme Adoption Process and Trust Framework Provider Adoption Process documents in July. These established criteria for identity technologies and trust framework providers to be accredited for use at US Government sites.
  • Based on their work together and with the government, the two foundations published the joint whitepaper “Open Trust Frameworks for Open Government”, with its release timed to coincide with the Open Government Identity Management Solutions Privacy Workshop in August. The whitepaper is available on both OIDF site and the ICF site.
  • The privacy characteristics of the draft profiles when used at ICAM Assurance Level 1 (a.k.a. NIST Assurance Level 1) were subjected to public review at the Open Government Identity Management Solutions Privacy Workshop.
  • On September 9th, the two foundations jointly announced the Open Identity for Open Government initiative, with Yahoo!, PayPal, Google, Equifax, AOL, VeriSign, Acxiom, Citi, Privo and Wave Systems participating as identity providers. See the press release on the ICF site or the OIDF site.
  • On September 9th, US federal CIO Vivek Kundra met with the boards of the OpenID Foundation and Information Card Foundation to discuss progress on the initiative to accept commercial identities at government web sites. He endorsed the idea of starting with three pilot projects that would enable privacy, security, and usability issues to be identified and addressed before a broader rollout. He agreed that two of these pilots should be at ICAM Assurance Level 1 and one at Level 2 or 3.
  • The ICAM OpenID 2.0 Profile was published on September 9th.
  • At the Gov 2.0 Summit on September 10th, Vivek Kundra described the identity initiative to attendees. His remarks were in the context of things he is doing to make government’s IT investments more efficient. He gave the example of making campground reservations at recreation.gov, which currently requires you to create an account that you’re unlikely to use again soon. He said that since you already have identities from Google or Yahoo or Microsoft, wouldn’t it be better to let you use those identities at the government site?
  • ICAM updated the Open Identity Solutions for Open Government page on September 10th. This page should continue to reflect the current state of the initiative.

Of course, despite all the activity above, this is really just the beginning. No government relying parties are yet live, the identity provider certification programs are still being developed, and the Information Card profile is not yet final. Only once sites go live will data start to come in about whether people are able to successfully use commercially-issued identities at the sites, and whether they find this capability useful.

Finally, I’ll note that while government sites will always be only a small fraction of the sites that people use on the Internet, and will typically not be on the cutting edge of innovation, I believe that that this is one of the relatively rare moments where a government initiative is serving as a useful focal point for action within private enterprise. A diverse set of companies and organizations have come together to meet this challenge in a way that would be hard to imagine happening without the government initiative to serve as a catalyst. That’s all good.

We still have a lot to learn and a lot to do. I’m glad we’re getting started.

One Response to “US Government Open Identity Initiative”

  1. Mike Jones: self-issued » Identity Interop at Catalyst San Diego, July 2010 on 08 Jul 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    [...] interop event includes exercising the US Government identity profiles developed as part of the Open Identity Solutions for Open Government initiative. Microsoft is hosting testing endpoints using AD FS 2.0 and the Card Issuance CTP. The [...]

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