February 10, 2004 5:41 PM PST

VeriSign works to ID kid surfers

VeriSign plans to unveil on Wednesday a digital identity program for school-age children, which it says will bolster online safety for the growing number of young Web surfers.

The Net infrastructure and security company and partner i-Safe America, a group that educates children about online safety, will demonstrate the use of digital IDs at a Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee luncheon and technology fair in Washington, D.C.


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VeriSign and i-Safe are working together to bring digital ID tokens to children between 12 and 17 years old. Currently, more than 48 million American children aged 5 to 17 regularly use the Internet, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That figure is expected to swell to more than 77 million by next year.

"The idea is to give i-Safe digital credentials to children, so they can interact with anyone safely on the Internet, no matter where they are," said Teri Schroeder, chief executive of the nonprofit organization.

Under a pilot program scheduled for introduction during the summer, parents can sign up their children for digital credentials when enrolling them in school. VeriSign will issue the ID hardware and the schools will act as the registration authority. There will be no cost to the students or to the schools.

The token, which plugs into a computer's USB port, will allow children to encrypt e-mail, to access kid-safe sites and to purchase items that require a digital signature, said George Schu, a vice president at Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign.

He noted, however, that few public Web sites exist that require digital credentials for entry, which raises questions about whether children need the tokens.

"Right now, it seems premature. There is nothing really out there. They are building an infrastructure with the hope of later attracting some utility for it," said Dan Moniz, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But, on the other hand, if you give kids all these tokens upfront, then VeriSign can later go to online retailers who want to sell to that market."

VeriSign said it has not yet determined how it will offset its costs for the i-Safe program.

The pilot program will be offered first in Kentucky and Nebraska, with the three other states to be named later. Schroeder said they hope to line up about 1,000 students for the pilot.

"We're looking to bring a change to our culture," she said. "Hopefully every student in the U.S. will have access to this to protect themselves and empower them."

 

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