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Digital ID bill to make a comeback

Feb 8, 2021
In The News

SHOW ME SOME I.D. — A bipartisan pair of House lawmakers is planning to revive a bill in the coming weeks that would revamp the government’s approach to personal digital identification for U.S. citizens. The legislation — dubbed the “Improving Digital Identity Act” — was introduced last year but expired at the end of the 116th Congress without being acted on. Now, the measure’s main boosters — Reps. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) — intend to reintroduce it in the next four to eight weeks.

“The whole issue of having a secure digital identity for citizens who want it is something that we expect movement on this year, there’s just a number of political and technological forces that are converging to force the issue,” Foster told your MC author. Those include the implementation of the Real ID enforcement deadline in October and the rise in telehealth services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “There’s just a long list of government uses once you have this ID” that would make the federal government “a leader instead of a laggard,” said Foster, a member of the House Financial Services Committee. He said those uses could range from electronic health records to voter identification.

The original legislation called for creating a task force of federal, state and local governments charged with establishing a new standards-based, comprehensive approach to digital identity verification services. It also directed NIST to create a new framework of standards to guide government agencies when providing digital identity verification services and established a DHS grant program for states to upgrade systems used for driver's licenses and other credentials using the NIST guidelines.

The bill “largely focuses on the government part of the problem,” according to Foster. And getting the federal government to come up with a new scheme “should be the easiest step” because a majority of Americans already go through electronic confirmation hoops for things like online banking and airport check-ins.

Foster said he was looking for a “strong partner” to introduce a Senate version of the bill, which might result in the measure being altered, but declined to offer names. Speaking at a webinar on Friday, Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, predicted the legislation would pass the lower chamber and said that he’s had “very good discussions” about the bill with Sen. Rob Portman, his Senate counterpart. A Portman spokesperson confirmed that the two had talked about the issue and that the retiring Ohio Republican would review the legislation. “My staff and I are building bridges, not burning them,” Katko said. “Bipartisanship’s not a dirty word … contrary to what you might see on the news.”