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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

White House Considers Microsoft's Passport For Online National ID System
April 19th, 2002

For those needing proof that the Bush Administration does not understand technology or the tech industry, the Seattle Times has what one TMO forum member characterized as "The scariest story ever." I agree.

One "Mark Forman," who the Seattle Times says describes himself as the "government's chief information officer," is being tasked with finding a solution for a national online ID system. Better yet, he is considering Microsoft's Passport technology as the backbone of the system. From that article:

On Sept. 30, the government plans to begin testing Web sites where businesses can pay taxes and citizens can learn about benefits and social services. It's also exploring how to verify the identity of users so the sites can share private information.

Microsoft's Passport is being considered as a way to authenticate users of the Web sites, said Mark Forman, associate director of information technology at the White House.

"They are involved in that discussion,'' he said, adding that the government has not yet selected which technology it will use.

<snip>

After the Sept. 11 attacks, some politicians and business leaders have called for a national identification card, but Forman said that's not in the works. "We don't have any plans for a national ID card," he said.

The White House is instead pursuing an "e-identification" initiative, an effort to develop ways to authenticate people and businesses online who already have government identification numbers such as Social Security, business-registration and employer-identification numbers.

At the government-leaders conference, attended by representatives of 75 countries, Microsoft presented a blueprint for its "e-government" strategy that suggests they use Passport to verify the identity of visitors to their Web sites. It also suggested that its bCentral business Web site could be used to process business tax payments and that citizens could use its MSN Web site to handle address changes and voter registration.

Read the full article for more scary information.

The idea of Microsoft's servers and software being at the heart of something as potentially important as a national online ID system is simply terrifying. Passport is Microsoft's scheme designed to make it easy for Net surfers to store their personal information and passwords, and the like. Sites using Passport to power their own authentication system allow you to log in with just your Passport. One login, multiple sites. Great, right? It is, except that all of that data resides on Microsoft's virus-prone and unsecure servers. Microsoft ropes people into signing up for Passport by requiring it for things like its MSN Web sites and ISP, and MSN Messenger. If you signed up for a Hotmail account, you have also been suckered into signing up for Passport.

Passport and its related services have been compromised more than once, including succumbing to Denial of Service attacks, and it has even been the victim of a Code Red worm (or one of its related brethren). Sometimes it just doesn't work. These are servers that were maintained by Microsoft, for goodness sake, and the company couldn't protect them. Microsoft has never made a secure operating system, let alone a truly reliable Internet service, and is not to be trusted with your data or information, let alone your national ID.

It's bad enough when self-serving IT pinheads in the corporate market ram Windows down the throats of its network users, but it's a national threat when something like Passport is being considered for this kind of role in our government. Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised, however. It was the same Bush Administration that is considering Passport that abrogated its responsibility to the American public by rolling over and playing dead in the face of Microsoft's antitrust appeal. The DoJ could have taken the appeals court ruling and pushed for a breakup of the company, but instead worked out a deal with Microsoft that serves little more than to further the company's power. Microsoft has a friend in the White House.

This is why we sometimes talk politics at TMO. Technology and politics are often entwined hand and hand, and if Passport ever gets picked to drive this sort of cockamamie scheme, it will certainly be a political decision. Write the White House, write your Representative, and write both of your Senators. Tell them that if Passport, Hailstorm, or any other Microsoft technology gets chosen to drive a national online ID system, you will vote for someone else at the first opportunity.

I invite you to participate in the discussion on this issue in our forums.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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