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Obama does OpenID

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Hoping to make it easier for American citizens to log into and use federal web sites, the US government has embraced not one but two digital identity standards: OpenID and InfoCard.

Today, the nation's (first) chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, announced a pilot program that will let you log into a handful of government websites using an OpenID or an Information Card. In other words, you can log in via existing accounts you've set up with Google, Yahoo!, PayPal, and other prominent web outfits - without setting up a new username and password.

The pilot program ropes in the websites of the Center for Information Technology (CIT), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and related agencies. Ten big-name OpenID providers will drive seamless logins, including Yahoo!, PayPal, Google, AOL, and VeriSign. For some reason, Microsoft - an InfoCard champion - is not on the list.

The ten outfits have all passed a certification process laid down by the not-for-profit OpenID Foundation (OIDF) and Information Card Foundation (ICF), and reviewed by the federal government. Others can apply for certification as well.

The move follows the "open government memorandum" President Barack Obama released on his first day in office, insisting that government should be transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Naturally, the so-called Web 2.0 is a big part of this idealistic vision of a goldfish-bowl government. The government's OpenID embrace was announced this morning at a Washington, DC conference dubbed the Gov 2.0 Summit.

The idea is to get people interacting with blogs, surveys, social networks, and videocasts hosted on government sites. Traditionally, the US government is highly allergic to such tools, but Obama and crew are attempting to change that.

After winning election, Obama equipped his official transition site, Change.gov, for OpenID logins, letting users post comments without establishing fresh user names and passwords. This and the government's new pilot program actually goes beyond many of the big-name OpenID supporters, which host OpenID credentials but don't allow logins from users who host their credentials elsewhere.

Obama's pilot sites will begin accepting OpenID and Information Card logins in the next several weeks. ®

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