Are You Ready for a Driver’s License for the Internet?

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The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) has adopted an online authentication tool the agency is using to ensure that the benefits it issues, like food assistance, are going to the right people.

Such incarnations of online authentication technology are sprouting up in state government agencies around the country, led by a White House vision of a new, central form of identification, what some are calling “a driver’s license for the Internet.”

The DCF reported that in 2013 it saved about $14.7 million through the use of an online authentication tool, with an initial investment of about $1 million and a total contract of just under $3 million. The DCF says the technology is saving so much money because it saves staff the time of verifying identities manually, and even better, there’s been a reduction in cases of identity fraud.

Not everyone thinks a driver’s license for the Internet is a great idea. Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is skeptical whether the government’s main motivation with such a program would even be fraud prevention -- and not tracking. “We think it’s a terrible idea,” Tien said. “The main substantive issue is that much of what we do on the Internet is plain old speech: writing comments, posting on blogs or whatever. And one of the things about speech in the United States, especially under the First Amendment of the Constitution, is that you have a right to speak anonymously. […] Any mandatory type of ID online runs really directly counter to that.”

Are You Ready for a Driver’s License for the Internet?