Apr 27, 2020 in Letters from the President by DIACC

Why Canada Needs a Digital ID Framework

Canada must become a nation of digital identity. 

What does this mean, exactly?

I believe that Canadians should be in control of their personal data. I also think that there should be standards and practices that help guide the way that citizens can safeguard their digital identity. In a world where entire economies are struggling thanks to the COVID-pandemic, the value of digital ID couldn’t be more relevant.

We are all collectively trying to adapt to the “new normal,” as many of us crave more social interaction and worry about financial stability. There’s never been a better time to invest in our national security and digital economy.

Canada has to become a nation of digital identity, and it should do so as soon as possible.

Digital ID is critical to the economy

Today, shortcomings in digital identity (such as data breaches and potential fraud) result in risks to individuals and businesses and hinder the growth of the digital economy. The entire economy is impacted.

The Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) estimates that the potential value that trusted digital identity could bring to the Canadian economy is at least 1 percent of Canada’s GDP, or CAD 15 billion.  

This is a significant amount of money, especially when you consider that the Canadian government plans to spend $10 billion to bail out its oil industry. Why can’t we invest in an infrastructure that prevents billions from being lost in the future?

There are also other economic benefits to be realized. In Canada, for instance, the DIACC and participating banks have determined potential net savings per institution at or above CAD 100 million per year, through operational efficiencies created by reducing manual processing costs, as well as reducing fraud.

A Remote Working Solution

More employees are being asked, or even required, to work remotely. This gives rise to new obstacles in terms of establishing secure connections, and maintaining data privacy poses a challenge. For example, each time an employee connects to their corporate network from their home; they create access points that hackers may exploit. 

There are already reports that hackers have sent phishing emails, claiming to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Google has stated that they have already blocked an average of 18 million emails per day this past week, as hackers try to capitalize on fears about public health. While public safety requires a rapid shift to remote working, this shift creates a greater strain on IT departments and existing infrastructure. 

Canada needs to establish a secure digital identity to enable organizations to streamline and secure their operations. This benefits so many aspects of a company, whether we are speaking to customer registration or credit risk assessment. The volume of online transactions is increasing in the shift towards a decentralized work environment. 

Canadians are shifting online to conduct important transactions and access services such as banking, education and e-commerce purchases. Canadians need a secure and safe environment to transact, both for business and personal needs. 

Data breaches continue to increase, as do concerns surrounding them. A recent survey from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found that 92 percent of Canadians expressed concern about the protection of their privacy. 

Just two months ago, the personal information of over 140,000 Canadians was compromised. In fact, the information here was actually mishandled by Canadian departments and agencies, rather than a data breach or hack by a foreign government.

More Trust, Less Fear

Digital identity boils down to trust: trusting who is on the other end of a transaction and having confidence that one’s data is protected. Digital identity will enable that trust, and provide that secure digital social safety net that Canada urgently needs. 

At a time when Canadians are experiencing fear and anxiety, not knowing what lies in the weeks and months ahead, they deserve to have greater control over and protection of their data. Technology companies have the opportunity to step up and make this happen. 

As the global business landscape shifts along with the changing times, a secure digital identity becomes critical, as businesses will have to adjust their operating procedures. With a secure digital identity, employers will be able to keep more Canadians at work during a time of crisis. 

Collaboration Is Essential

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of community  – and banding together to share experiences and much-needed information, both on a local and global scale. 

A community of leaders from the public and private sectors have joined together in the DIACC to connect their in-depth knowledge and expertise to unlock digital identity capabilities of all sectors, to secure Canada’s full participation in the digital economy. 

Together, DIACC members and partners are delivering a Pan-Canadian Trust Framework to provide rules and tools to accelerate digital identity solutions and services that are designed with privacy and security as core principles. 

Furthermore, DIACC is working with members and partners to support near term identity-related projects to help Canadians in this urgent time of need. With the sole focus on making digital identity a reality for Canadians, DIACC takes a uniquely collaborative approach. The urgent need for digital identity is something that impacts us all, and we welcome all voices to the table. 

As we manage life and death immediate needs during this crisis, we must also commit to ensuring that Canada becomes a digital identity nation. 

Australia has notably taken tangible steps towards establishing a digital identity program. Specifically, the Australian government hopes to create a single digital ID for every Australian citizen by 2025. Michael Keenan, the Digital Minister of Australia, says plainly that the initiative will save the country “tens of billions of dollars per year.”

It’s also clear that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has already accomplished a lot in Europe in a relatively short period of time. The law has forced some of the most powerful tech companies in the world to rethink and revamp the way that they operate.

The majority of Canadian citizens support a digital identity framework. What are we waiting for, exactly?

We must do this now, so that when the next emergency hits, we are well-prepared.