The state of Digital ID in Canada

Digital ID is coming to Canada, bringing with it a host of questions and even some concerns from privacy advocates. Many provinces, and the federal government, have launched Digital ID initiatives to simplify and secure access to government services. They regard Digital ID as an essential part of transforming service delivery in the digital era.

Statistics indicate that the public is overwhelmingly supportive of Digital ID. Still these initiatives have their critics, many of whom fear government will overreach or abuse. Digital Identification is an extension of current forms of ID that claims to offer more privacy and control over how personal information is shared. Proponents claim that it alleviates some of the risks associated with physical documents such as driver’s licenses, passports or bank cards.

Current Status of Government Programs

While the Canadian government has yet to announce concrete plans for a nationwide Digital ID program, it does support some provincial initiatives. For instance, Albertans can use their provincial Digital ID to access the Canadian Revenue Agency’s online services.

In Ontario as well as in Quebec, deployment of provincial initiatives has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ontario plans to launch an all-encompassing view of the technology this year. The province claims that its infrastructure will allow residents to not only access government resources but also to make age-sensitive purchases (such as lottery tickets or alcohol), or to prove one’s identity when opening a bank account, for example.

In Quebec, the rollout of a Digital ID initiative is planned for 2025. The province is considering including documents issued by private companies in its Digital Identity wallet in addition to government-issued documents such as health insurance cards, driver’s licenses or birth certificates. Quebec’s Minister of Cybersecurity and Digital, Eric Caire gave the example of proof of automobile insurance, which is mandatory when driving a vehicle although issued by the private sector.

British Columbia is an early adopter of Digital ID with its BCeID identity and authentication service. The service, which has been operational since 2002, provides an electronic identity that makes it possible to access all government services.

Albertans are already using the MyAlberta Digital ID, a free service to prove identity online and for face-to-face visits without using paper documents. The service claims to give seamless access to a growing range of government services while protecting users’ information and privacy.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba have not yet implemented Digital ID. In Saskatchewan, the government is still considering Digital Identification as an option for its residents. The province is currently considering proposals from companies interested in developing the system, but no further details have been revealed. Likewise, Manitoba has not yet introduced firm plans for Digital ID.

In the Atlantic Provinces, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick are at various levels of advancement in their respective Digital ID initiatives. Most provinces have only deployed pilots, proof of concepts, or online Digital ID components such as single sign-on. Digital documents are envisioned to support trade and commerce while enabling individuals to participate in the digital economy and society.

As for the Yukon, Northwest and Nunavut territories, their use of Digital ID is currently limited to supporting eID-Me, a mobile app that lets people digitize and store their ID documents on their smartphones.

Business Impact

With most Canadian Digital ID initiatives focusing on individuals and government services, business owners may be wondering how Digital ID will impact their operations. Several Canadian provinces already have plans to include the private sector in their respective initiatives and any business that needs to positively identify clients might also benefit from it.

Privacy concerns

Digital ID has clear benefits, but it has also raised serious concerns among the population. Some see it as an invasion of their privacy. Some fear that their personal information could be leaked. Some feel it is not secure enough.

Most Digital ID infrastructures use digitally signed Verifiable Credentials – which are based on principles of cryptography, privacy, security and data sovereignty – to ensure a high level of security and verification. This ensures trust in information that is shared and makes for an inherently secure and user-centric ecosystem. Citizens can now have complete control over their credentials, which may be stored on their desktop or mobile devices as well as shared and verified entirely privately and even offline.

“Canada has a chance to be a reference point for Digital Identity globally if the various provinces design and deploy systems that can work together intelligently. Alignment with open identity standards is key to making this happen, as some of the underlying technology in this space is still evolving”, said Chami Akmeemana, CEO of Convergence Tech, a Toronto-based consulting firm specializing in Digital Identity.

Proponents of Digital ID would claim that it allows for more control over what information is shared.

Let’s take renting a car as an example. Using a Digital ID instead of a driver’s license ensures that the renting company has proof that you are authorized to drive whatever type of vehicle you’re renting. At the same time, it doesn’t disclose private information that could be used for fraud or identity theft such as your driver’s license number or your birthdate.

There are also concerns about you losing your Digital ID or having it used by an unauthorized third party. While this is possible, proponents argue that it is simpler and more secure to revoke a Digital ID and issue a new one than to have to track down someone using your physical ID such as a lost or stolen driver’s license.

The debate will continue. Digital ID is still in its infancy in Canada. The next few years will be crucial in shaping the direction it will take and how – or whether – it will be accepted by the general public.

“Leveraging the latest in credential-based identity solutions has the potential to alleviate a lot of concerns the public has about privacy and data protection,” Akmeemana added. “It also has the potential to create digital identities that are as flexible and portable as the physical cards that presently live in your wallet.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Renaud Larue Langlois
Renaud Larue Langlois
Half journalist, half IT Manager, full technology nerd. After a 25+ year career in IT, becoming a writer was a natural choice for Renaud. It literally runs in his family. His areas of interest are... anything, as long as it's technology-related. He can be reached at [email protected]

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