Feb 22, 2021 in DIACC Industry Insights, Guest Blogs by DIACC

Digital ID, the next step to easier, more convenient government services for citizens

Contributions made by members of the DIACC’s Outreach Expert Committee

Across the country, governments are grappling with digital transformation, in an effort to offer services to citizens and businesses with greater flexibility and ease of access. With COVID-19, these efforts are all the more pressing to enable service at a distance and recognize that many people have settled into a new, more remote way of operating.

Moving governments online is not a new focus. Governments have been tackling this transformation for well over 10 years. As technology has advanced and people have grown comfortable transacting digitally, government efforts have also increased to put more information and services online. Yet, the more complex services, (i.e., ones that deal with sensitive data, require multi-ministry involvement, or involve large payouts by way of grants or loans), still generally remain offline, largely due to one key problem: proving that the person behind the computer is who they say they are. The answer to this problem is digital ID.

Digital ID is the ability to identify someone electronically and confirm that they are the right person for a specific activity. When coupled with program information, a Digital ID can help confirm that the person has permission or authorization to carry out a transaction or activity. When delivered well, it offers citizens and businesses improved data security, increased flexibility to access government services when and how they want, and ultimately is a key foundation for accelerating our digital economy. Just think of all the times in banking, education, health and even buying alcohol where you’re required to produce a physical ID.

In a digital ID world, improved privacy and security can complement convenience, rather than inhibit it. The old ways ask us to show up in person for a signature or to show ID, or to fill out a form with all sorts of personal information that is then collected and stored where it’s left susceptible to hacks, and frankly, simply becoming out of date. Digital IDs allow us to confirm information without storing it. Governments can ask you for personal information – an address, birth date, or even your photo – and compare it against sources of truth like vital stats or the driver’s license database. But then, critically, that information is discarded. No additional storage and you’ve proven it’s you without leaving your own home.

The promise has been significant, but until recently it has been inhibited by immature technology, a lack of standards to build trust and safeguard Canadians, and with few exceptions, a lack of public-sector investment to dig in and get digital IDs delivered across the country. Fortunately, in the last few years, that’s all started to change. Both Alberta and British Columbia have launched digital IDs, with BC including a mobile card and a Verify by Video option. Provinces like Quebec have made significant investments, and other jurisdictions like Ontario, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick are nudging into the space with pilots, proofs of concepts and digital ID components offered through their single-sign on. Enabling the broader digital economy is also on the horizon. Digital documents, such as government-issued licences, permits, and education credentials, are envisioned to support digital trade and commerce and to enable individuals and organizations to participate in the digital economy and society.

In short, federal, provincial, territorial and municipal collaboration is coalescing like never before, with strong leadership and a sense of purpose. Digital ID solution providers are emerging in Canada’s tech sector, thanks in part to creative challenges, pilot projects and investment from the public sector. The Pan-Canadian Trust Framework, and its public sector counterpart, the Public Sector Profile, have emerged to provide the blueprints for digital ID in Canada and are being accelerated with the increasing realization that social distancing is here to stay, for a while.

Once we have the confidence that the person on the internet is truly who they say they are, that they are a legitimate, verified person, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. We can start to attach proofs to digital IDs, like proof of vaccination or essential worker status. We can use digital IDs to prove online that we’re the correct person to write an exam, sign a mortgage or contract, or stamp blueprints.

We can use digital IDs to speed up lines at the airports, borders and other secure access points with trusted, reliable ‘scan and go’ systems, and we can use digital ID to help maintain that all-important social distancing, protecting the safety of workers and citizens by not having to hand over your physical ID card and instead presenting your phone to be scanned. Digital ID offers Canadians improved data security, enhanced access and increased flexibility when dealing with governments, and ultimately will support ushering in an enhanced digital economy.

Governments across the country are working harder than ever to make digital ID a reality. The necessary investment, focus, and accelerators that allow governments to move with trust and confidence are finally starting to come together. With COVID-19 still very much present, now more than ever is the time to make the shift. Look to the DIACC to learn more about digital ID and primary accelerators like the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework and the ever-growing vendor community working to verify identity online.