Open identity for the government

Published September 9, 2009
Chris Messina is a community board member of the OpenID Foundation, long time advocate for citizens of the web, and prolific blogger on all things “open”. Today in collaboration with Vivek Kundra, the nation’s first CIO, we are announcing a pilot program intended to enable individual citizens to login to government websites with their existing accounts — without revealing their password or personally identifying information — using OpenID and InfoCard technologies. This is an important step in the Obama administration’s commitment to open, transparent, and participatory government. First, it acknowledges and embraces existing, open technologies, rather than inventing their own (or worse, hiring independent contractors to do the same). Second, this comes at a critical time in the history of OpenID, of which there are now well over 500 million OpenID-capable accounts in the wild, (even if few people realize that they already have one!). Given the wide deployment of this technology, it only makes sense that the government should leverage this wide potential userbase to facilitate interaction with its citizens. Third, it is critical for the government and government agencies to develop solutions and adopt technologies that make it easier for modern citizens to engage with them, to exist competently alongside other social networking websites. In other words, by embracing OpenID (and InfoCard), the government is helping to further establish the value of owning one’s own identity, and of having convenient, consistent, and privacy-protecting mechanisms in place to enhance and enable participation. To make this more real, consider booking a campground on a state park’s website: do you really want to create yet another account (that you’ll probably never use again) just to reserve a campsite? Probably not. To make this more personal: imagine searching the National Institute of Health’s website for information for a loved one who was recently diagnosed with cancer. You’d want the technology to get out of the way and serve your goals — who’d want to register for a new account when you just want to save your search progress (say, from a library kiosk) and resume it later (i.e. from home)? It’s cases like this that begin to tease at the value of using existing accounts for low-security government interactions (at least to start). Like email, I expect to see this start with a slow, gradual adoption, and overtime, gain momentum and relevance. To find out more about this pilot program, read the full press release and visit our OpenID for Government page.