Managing Identity Verification of Citizens and Visitors

Public Management, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Managing Identity Verification of Citizens and Visitors


The need has never been greater for government to identify its citizens and visitors accurately and reliably, yet the challenge to do so must be met both by governments and by businesses. The technical ability to address the issue of identity management is not the problem. The technology exists and is readily available; the difficult questions are ones of policy and governance. These are the findings of a team of national experts assembled by Johns Hopkins University's Washington Center for the Study of American Government.

The report, Identity Management Systems and Governance in the 21st Century, is the result of a symposium of 34 leaders from government, the private sector, and academia organized by Johns Hopkins. The goal was to develop a vision of an appropriate governance structure for comprehensive identification management that protects personal information and thwarts identify theft, while improving service delivery and furthering national security.

Identity management is critical to homeland security and to reducing costly identity fraud in the commercial sector. It has been of special concern at airports, other points of entry to the United States, and many other vulnerable facilities, and is also important in the commercial world, for example, to prevent identity theft and fraudulent use of credit cards.

Following is a summary of the symposium's discussion, with an emphasis on points of consensus:

* Digital credentials offer a valuable new kind of public service. Digital authentication will require governments to improve the processes used to issue, verify, and revoke such credentials.

* Interoperability of the different types of authentication systems now in place is possible in the public and private sectors because, even though each has some unique features, there are common elements as well. This interoperability is essential to avoid having numerous and incompatible systems that are costly, cumbersome, and unable to meet the greater public policy goal of accurately and reliably verifying the identity of individuals in the nation.

* Cooperation between governments and the private sector is essential to achieve the comprehensive identity management needed to protect personal information while improving national security by accurately identifying individuals throughout the country.

The report finds that there is widespread agreement on the point that, although clear leadership by the federal government is needed, extensive federal regulation or involvement is considered neither necessary nor desirable. States and localities have an active and primary role in identity management. Innovative efforts by states should be encouraged, such as the Iowa pilot program to establish an Identity-Security Clearinghouse that links identity documents and develops rules and standards for the proper use of this information.

Potential roles for the federal government include imposing requirements for standards, promoting a forum for debating and resolving identity management issues, and/or providing financial support. …

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