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January 13, 2011

Accessing only government approved websites

Scott Stockdale

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In what may turn out to be a double-edged sword, the White House is hoping to come up with a comprehensive strategy to better protect people in cyberspace and is asking the public for help, according to the Obama administration's draft plan for cyberspace security.

When an early version of what it calls the potential new National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) was released in June 2010, the Obama administration said the government is aiming to set up a system that would let people voluntarily create trusted identities to use in online transactions.  National Security was not even mentioned.

Critics say this is the real reason for the advent of NSTIC, in what may be the beginning of the end of free access to information on the internet and perhaps free speech itself. 

With the increasingly symbiotic relationship between government and the mainstream media, evident in the media's near universal championing of the invasion of Iraq – and most, if not all, other wars the government sold to the public, wrapped in the flag of patriotism and national security – the internet is one of the few remaining outlets for the free flow of information.

White House cyber security chief Howard Schmidt said the goal of NSTIC is to secure and protect transactions in cyberspace through use of a special ID – a smart card or digital certificate – that would prove that people are who they say they are. He said these digital ID's would be offered to consumers by online vendors for financial transactions. 

With online consumers and companies grappling with fraud and identity theft, the Obama administration wants an “identity ecosystem” in which people can feel more safe and secure, as they conduct business over the internet.

It's unfortunate that the  US government didn't show the same concern for consumers when the US banking system was selling mortgages for homes to people who couldn't possibly afford them, leading millions of people to financial ruin, while almost destroying the US financial system.

Mr. Schmidt said smart identity cards would eliminate – or at lease reduce -the need to juggle a multitude of usernames and passwords for each online service. He added that such an ID system would also let individuals choose and control how much private information they wished to reveal to authenticate themselves online.

Now, in January 2011, in an attempt to placate privacy and civil-liberties groups, which have raised concerns in the past over the dual roles of police and intelligence agencies, President Obama is planning to hand the U.S. Commerce Department authority over the forthcoming NSTIC, as opposed to potential candidates such as the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

While this may be aimed at softening the blow for civil libertarians, many recall that other mandatory government procedures such as social security and submitting to a DNA test when arrested started out as voluntary. The DNA extraction and sex offender registration were both voluntary, and now any arrest – not conviction - is "constitutionally appropriate" for taking DNA and forcing registration; and this means an arrest for any felony.

As with the Patriot Act, which severely curtailed civil liberties, - and has now been made permanent by the Obama administration - critics claim the NSCIT is really an attempt to shut down the flow of information, in an effort to conceal illegal government actions, and thus make government officials immune to prosecution.

Meanwhile, China continues to block sections of the internet from its citizens. Once the "IDs" are approved will there come a time when Americans can only access American approved websites?

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