White House pushes public/private collaboration for identity protection

President Obama's National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace report, which outlines how the government will work with the private sector to develop a new approach to Internet security, could have a strong impact on health information exchange in the long run. But the 45-page document makes it clear that will take years to develop the new "identity ecosystem" the White House is seeking to protect consumers from identity theft and fraud on the Web.

Initially, the government will develop an implementation roadmap that "identifies and assigns responsibility for actions that [it] can perform itself or by which [it] can facilitate private-sector efforts."

In addition, the Administration will establish a National Program Office for coordinating the private/public effort. The NPO will be "hosted" in the Department of Commerce and report to the President through the Secretary of Commerce.

No details were given of the technologies that might be employed in this identity ecosystem. But the report gives an example of a consumer inserting a "smart card" into a computer and using the credentials on it to "run" online errands, including banking, shopping, and accessing a personal health record (PHR). An official told Bloomberg News that thumb drives or smartphone applications might also be used.

Considering the plethora of issues that privacy advocates have raised with regard to patient portals, PHRs and health information exchanges, a secure digital patient identity should be welcome to providers. It might also help patients assemble information from disparate sources for their PHRs.

Two bills on patient privacy were recently introduced in Congress. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R.-Ariz.) debuted a commercial privacy bill to protect consumers against the unauthorized collection, use, and dissemination of their personal information. And Rep. Cliff Sterns (R.-Fla.) rolled out a measure that would require companies to establish privacy policies regarding the collection, sale and use of consumer information and make it easy for patients to access those policies. 

To learn more:
- read the White House report (.pdf)
- check out the Bloomberg News article