For those of us new to the Digital Identity scene, separating fact from fiction and deciphering the benefits from the vast array of information written on the topic is not an easy task. Over the past 24 months, the use cases for Digital Identity have become more prevalent and the news surrounding the myriad of solutions and their applications in the marketplace continues to be front and centre. It has left the Digital Identity novice trying to understand the technology and asking three questions:
Having a Digital Identity is an important component for those wanting to interact in the digital economy. But what really is a Digital Identity and what is it used for? One way to think of a Digital Identity is as the equivalent of your identity in the physical world, such as having your physical driver’s license or health card digitized. It helps us to prove we are who we say we are, in an online context. Your identity can be used to replace physical identification such as a digital driver’s license, job credentials, or vaccine passport. Or it can also be used as a credential to access online services such as banking, apps on a mobile phone, or educational diplomas and certificates. Without trust in these relationships; between customers and organizations, citizens and government adoption and continued development of Digital Identity will be a challenge. Getting people to participate in the digital ecosystem is reliant on how much they trust that their information will be kept safe and not subject to unauthorized access by those in authority or with nefarious intent. For some, the trade-off between the ease of use and convenience of a Digital Identity, and the potential danger of having information compromised is not a great concern. They see the advancement of the technology that facilitates secure Digital Identity as progress and the trade-off as being a reasonable one. However, for many, the risk is not worth the adoption of a Digital Identity and their lack of confidence in the powers that be to keep their data, especially financial details, secure.
So, what’s missing? What is needed to instill trust into the equation? It seems as though almost every week there’s a story in the news about the latest organization that has been affected by a data breach. These breaches have been directed at private sector organizations, public institutions, and government targets. The hackers are indiscriminate about which institutions they attack, so the general public’s faith and trust in these institutions continue to be eroded every time another one of these attacks comes to light. The uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether data you have shared with an organization is secure or not, or what you can do to avoid this type of thing happening again in the future, is very unnerving. For people to have more faith in the current systems they need to understand how and why an organization is collecting their data and how it will be used, shared, and stored. This issue has been the source of much debate when it comes to trusting that some areas of government will not collect and use their citizen’s data for purposes that have not been fully disclosed. For example, with law enforcement, many people are hesitant to open pandora’s box of police-citizen data collection with a historical lack of transparency around its use and to what extent this data is collected in the name of public safety.
To deal with the issue of trust, governments and industries have looked to put what are known as trust frameworks in place, such as the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework (PCTF). These frameworks provide auditable criteria for different capabilities in an identity ecosystem, such as those for issuers of digital credentials, the people who use them, and the organizations who rely on identity assertions linked to the credentials. Trust frameworks vary in scope as some seek to verify the trustworthiness of information, technology, and processes of a solution, such as the PCTF, while others seek to facilitate a clear understanding between the people using Digital Identity products, the organizations providing and using the services, and the data being used. A trust framework is a tool to facilitate information verification and compliance that help promote trust and technical interoperability while allowing for information assurance verification and technical implementation compliance. Trust Frameworks enable digital systems and technologies to be able to communicate with each other or together measure each system’s trustworthiness. However, having these frameworks in place does not in and of itself help guarantee trust in the system. In order for this to happen there needs to be education around what the frameworks are given that trust frameworks define outcome-based requirements trust frameworks themselves may not guarantee interoperability between systems. For this to be secured solutions would need to build on the same technologies and standards with additional technical compliance verification required.
The journey to a more ubiquitous world of Digital Identity is one that still has many hurdles to overcome before it becomes a more pervasive reality. As many of these challenges are met and the acceptance of the ecosystem becomes more the norm than the exception, ensuring that we do not lose sight of the human side of the discussion is paramount. Trust is earned not given, and we, those involved in the Digital Identity industry must continue to work towards building an ecosystem that encompasses systems and technologies that help to instill trust into the process.