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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

The US Government is evaluating Microsoft Corp's Passport to verify the identity of American citizens, federal employees and businesses who access planned online services, a move that could herald the system's largest single rollout.

Federal officials will begin testing web sites in September that allow businesses to pay taxes and up to 285m US citizens to learn about benefits and social services. Passport is being considered as a way to authenticate users of the web sites, according to the Seattle Times.

White House technology Czar Mark Forman is reported to have revealed details at Microsoft's Government Leaders Conference in Seattle, Washington, this week. Forman, associate director of IT for the White House, told conference delegates the government has not yet selected a technology.

The US Government's decision to evaluate Passport comes as analyst GarnterGroup found that the number of registered Passport users has doubled during the last six months - from seven million in August 2001 to 14 million as of February 2002.

However, Gartner found consumers are signing up out of necessity rather than choice. Gartner found 84% registered because they were required to when adopting Microsoft products like Hotmail, Windows XP and Microsoft Messenger, compared to 61%.

Passport is a central part of Microsoft's .NET web services strategy. It enables uses to sign-in to different services with a single log-in, potentially avoiding need for multiple identities. But, according to Gartner, just two percent signed up to Passport to avoid the problem of multiple identities and passwords, compared with 16% in August 2001.

"Consumer demand typically drives the adoption of new products and services, but the rollout of Passport services is clearly not following the same rule," Gartner vice president and research director Avivah Litan said in a statement.

Passport has proved incredibly controversial. Microsoft holds data of customers who use Passport, but industry and customer opposition has forced the company to revise this. Future versions of Microsoft .NET My Services, which will use Passport, will be re-worked to let enterprises customers run their own services, side stepping the Microsoft middleman.

Forman said his team has been contacted by the Liberty Alliance Project and will meet with representatives at some point. Liberty, backed by 40 vendors and customers, plans a set of specifications for single sign-on to web services. Microsoft, though, has an edge over Liberty. The company counts national governments among some of its biggest customers supplying desktop and back-office software, and developing portals for the UK, Mexico and other countries.

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