Without a secure, reliable, and trustworthy digital identity system for people, entities, and things, the increasingly digital new reality is vulnerable to attacks, threatening individual safety and national security.

Witnesses emphasized the importance of treating digital identity as critical infrastructure and how the Improving Digital Identity Act was a step in the right direction at a July 16th virtual congressional hearing with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Taskforce.

A Critical Infrastructure 

As the world continuously migrates to a digital landscape, safeguards to protect against identity theft and fraud became crucial. However, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inadequacies of the United States digital identity infrastructure. It became clear the nation had to catch up to the rest of the developed world on digital identity, according to Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.

The Improving Digital Identity Act would establish a task force of government officials to develop secure methods to validate identity attributes to protect the privacy and security of individuals. It will also support reliable and interoperable digital identity verification tools in the public and private sectors. The bill would also instruct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop new standards for digital identity verification services, with a clear emphasis on security and privacy.

“These inadequacies enabled cybercriminals to steal billions of dollars, creating major barriers for Americans trying to obtain critical benefits and services,” Jeremy Grant, coordinator for the Better Identity Coalition, said at the hearing. “For example, more than $63 billion was stolen from state unemployment insurance programs by cybercriminals who exploited weak state ID verification systems.”

Reducing identity fraud would provide tremendous savings not just for individuals but for the government as well. But to improve the United States’ digital identity infrastructure, the Federal government must acknowledge and treat digital identity as critical infrastructure. And the Improving Digital Identity Act is an excellent first step in that direction, he said.

“Currently, digital identity receives very little attention or funding as critical infrastructure. And the Improving Digital Identity Act, if approved, would change that,” Grant said.

The Private Sector VS Federal Sector on Digital Identity Systems 

The pandemic proved the continuous reliance on digital services for work, school, healthcare, banking, government services, and nearly all aspects of American life. But unlike person-to-person interactions, there is very little visibility of who or what is on the other end of that digital interaction or transaction.

“Digital identity is a critical infrastructure, and the Federal government must take the lead in shaping the technical, commercial, legal, and ethical standards for the design, development, and deployment of these systems,” Elizabeth Renieris, founding director of the Notre-Dame-IBM Technology Ethics Lab and professor at the University of Notre Dame, told the task force.

She added that private technology companies pursue digital identity systems with profit-maximizing business models that may threaten the privacy and security of individuals. The private sector often incorporates new and emerging technologies that are not well understood or subject to sufficiently clear legal frameworks. Therefore, secure digital identity systems need to be deployed ethically and responsibly.

Foster agreed that it is essential to ensure that the digital identity framework established has a clear emphasis on privacy and security.

Read More About
More Topics
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.