Liberty Alliance adds members, sets deadline

The Liberty Alliance, the group led by Sun Microsystems Inc. which is working to offer an alternative single sign-on technology to Microsoft Corp.'s Passport, announced 11 new members Tuesday and set a date for when it hopes to complete the first technical specifications for its system for authenticating users on the Web.

The new members include EarthLink Inc., EDS Corp., Nextel Communications Inc., PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, SchlumbergerSema Ltd., VeriSign Inc. and Visa International Inc., the group announced here at the RSA Conference 2002.

Eric Dean, chairman of the Liberty Alliance and chief information officer of United Air Lines Inc., said the group planned to publish its first round of specifications by the middle of 2002.

Those specifications will focus on achieving a basic goal of the alliance -- making it possible for an end user to log on at one Web site and then have that log-in transferred automatically to other Web sites selected by the user that are part of the Liberty Alliance system. No account data will actually be shared among the sites, Dean said; rather, only the fact that the user has logged on and been authenticated will be shared.

Dean stressed that the first specification represents only the beginning of the Liberty Alliance's work.

"It lays a groundwork upon which richer capabilities can be built," he said.

Future specifications will need to tackle tougher issues like privacy, he said, adding that "the privacy issue is absolutely at the center of what we want to do."

The Liberty Alliance was formed in late September as a response to Microsoft's Passport user authentication system. Sun and other founding members formed the group to counter what they saw as Microsoft's attempt to dominate the single sign-on market. Passport stores user information like the name, address, phone number and e-mail address, and can also store such data as bank account or credit card numbers for making e-commerce transactions.

Dean disputed the idea that Liberty Alliance is a direct challenge to Microsoft. "From the beginning, we were not interested in a battle with anybody," he said.

He said he would like to see Passport be completely interoperable with the Liberty Alliance, whether Microsoft is a member or not.

Though the Alliance's specification won't be available until mid-year, the group will be adding new members before then, Dean said. Within the next two months it will change its composition somewhat to allow nonprofit and public interest groups to become members, he said.

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