While internet activists are distracted with recent attacks on net neutrality, the government is quietly introducing an internet ID program in Pennsylvania and Michigan that — if eventually broadened as intended — would strip internet users of their privacy and rights.
The program, named the “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace,”¯ is starting small, consolidating accounts for public programs like welfare and health services. If the program were to stop at linking government accounts, it probably wouldn’t be such a big deal. The problem, however, is that United States officials are hoping that it’s the first step in a plan to make IDs that would be used uniformly throughout the entire internet.
The government is championing the program as one that promotes “convenience.”¯ Certainly, it would be “convenient” for internet users to have a single log-in and password for every activity on the internet, but it’s far more “convenient” for the government to be able to keep tabs on everything you do, type, search for, view, and purchase with a single account to monitor.
Tech experts fret that a single ID would eliminate the rights of internet users. For example, anonymous commenting, an act protected by the Supreme Court as free speech, would disappear if web surfers were unable to comment anywhere without being logged in to their official, government-issued accounts. Furthermore, any semblance of internet privacy would be obliterated considering how easily people’s activity could be tracked. The decision to initially target people in poverty for this type of system is hardly surprising since they are less likely to take issue with privacy concerns with more pressing matters taking priority in their lives.
The other notion that a single ID would somehow add to cybersecurity seems similarly ludicrous. Anytime large amounts of people’s essential information is stored in a single place, it attracts hackers. Considering the number of major credit card breaches in the past year, it’s not hard to imagine that datacenters housing passwords for all aspects of people’s lives would become prime targets for hackers looking to commit fraud.
The timing of this implementation is even more questionable. Given the public backlash against the NSA, it’s especially strange that the U.S. government is already rolling out a new invasive form of internet surveillance. However, officials insist that Americans will be protected from government intrusion, by giving control of the IDs to corporations outside of the government.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that much more comforting to know that a private tech company like Google or Comcast would have that access to all that information instead. Besides, given the obvious unholy alliance between government and corporations, what’s the difference there anyway? Precedent has shown us that judges¯ are willing to blindly grant government agencies access to this type of information 99.9% of the time.