On Monday, President Obama declared  March 4-10, 2012 as National Consumer Protection Week , building on a coordinated effort that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. The Commerce Department is using this occasion to showcase the efforts of our Internet Policy Task Force , which is leveraging the expertise of several Commerce bureaus that are aimed at ensuring continued innovation in the Internet economy and preserving consumer trust in Internet commerce and online interactions. In particular, the Task Force continues to move forward in our work to promote new efforts that will lead to improved Internet privacy protection and better security for consumers online.
One of the biggest problems facing consumers online is the heavy reliance on usernames and passwords. Most Internet users are asked to create so many logins and passwords that they have to create coping mechanisms to keep track of them all, from using the same one as often as possible to writing them all down, none of which lead to strong security practices. In fact, exploiting the inherent weaknesses of passwords was the top method attackers used last year, according to the 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report produced by Verizon. Last year, President Obama released the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace  (NSTIC) aimed at catalyzing a marketplace for many new consumer-oriented authentication solutions beyond passwords. The Strategy called upon the Commerce Department to host a National Program Office to lead implementation of the Strategy.
The NSTIC  National Program Office is moving to quickly advance the NSTIC implementation through creation of a new Identity Ecosystem Steering Group that is led by the private sector in conjunction with, but independent of, the federal government. The Office recently published recommendations for this Steering Group, including:
- The group should be structured to safeguard consumer protections for individual privacy and the underrepresented, through mechanisms such as a special privacy coordination committee and an appointed ombudsman.
- The group should be initially funded by the government through a competitive two-year grant to catalyze its formation and ensure there are no barriers to participation. After a period of initial government support, the steering group will need to establish a self-sustaining structure capable of allowing continued growth and operational independence.
Also, the NSTIC Program Office currently has an open competition to fund pilot projects  that can advance the key goals of the strategy and provide a foundation for the marketplace. These pilot projects are key to the success of NSTIC and, potentially, to the future of consumer protection. The deadline for submitting initial proposals is March 7, 2012.
Working in partnership with an array of private and public sector stakeholders, we can help all Americans soon choose from a variety of stronger types of credentials for more privacy-enhancing, secure online experiences.