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Help Define and Design the Future of Canada’s Levels of Assurance with DIACC

Online transactions, interactions, and service delivery are no longer aspirational end-states. In the wake of COVID-19, digital has become the default for many Canadians and industries. Making that default work long-term means earning and maintaining trust for people and platforms. Levels of assurance (LOAs) create a clear roadmap for developing that confidence, both for teams offering and people accessing services. Learn more about LOAs in our recent post to understand why they matter to Canadians, where we’re at and where we go from here.

“Making sure we have a common way to evaluate and measure the integrity of that data is central to a common bar of acceptance,” DIACC President Joni Brennan explained. To get a better understanding of how LOAs are a core factor in the future and success of digital platforms, we spoke with Joni and George Watt, Partner, Strategy and Lean Innovation Practice at Becker-Carroll. George has extensive experience leading and developing innovation and security with global enterprises.

Why are Levels of Assurance so important right now? 

George Watt: The pandemic accelerated the pace of digital transformation to breakneck speed. Governments have responded with impressive resolve to deliver new digital services safely. The private sector faced similar challenges with lockdowns and restrictions, new customer needs and opportunities to better serve their customers. For some, these transformations are imperative just to remain viable.

These organizations, both public and private, need to be able to safely transact digitally with their customers, and to interact with one- another. They need to be certain the entities they’re dealing with are who they claim to be with a level of confidence commensurate with risk inherent in each transaction. 

Levels of Assurance are about specific agreements between participants in an ecosystem that enable them to understand the level of confidence they can place in those transactions.

When it’s done well it becomes an unambiguous contract that makes it safe for people to transact digitally. 

Joni Brennan: The LOA conversation is important because it is a piece of the conversation that focuses on the verification of information that would be part of a transaction is authentic. The technical conversation is an important part of the puzzle… but making sure we have good data that can be relied upon and have assurance around that data is ultimately critical. 

For example, if I were a bank, I want to know data is good no matter where it came from. 

LOAs are an important piece of the puzzle for making transactions possible. 

What’s a use case where Canadians interact with LOAs? 

George Watt: When citizens interact with these LOA schemes they aren’t aware it’s happening – but they are aware of its impact. Signing into social media is a low risk example that many people do every day – but those service providers don’t truly know who their customers are. Any of the other services Canadians access with those social media digital credentials would also be considered low level of assurance because nothing is done to ensure the account holder is who they claim to be. 

Online banking is a high risk example. Compromise of that information could be devastating and could lead to bankruptcy or worse. That’s why the Canadian banking industry has a very high LOA standard that helps ensure customers are who they say they are, and helps customers protect themselves. 

The consumer doesn’t see these LOAs in explicit ways but sees their impact implicitly. For example, you don’t need to visit Facebook HQ to get an account – it has a low level of assurance – but you do need to visit your financial institution or go through a more rigorous process to prove who you are to get a bank account. They require a higher level of confidence that they know who you are. 

Joni Brennan: The ability to access city plans and interface on a decision like [changing traffic flow to create active streets] would be a lower risk interaction. Learning that there will be some barriers set up for bicycles would be low risk for other citizens or the municipal government. 
Accessing your pension or tax refund would be an example with higher risk. Something that we haven’t solved yet (but relates to digital ID) is access to digital medical records. Ideally, it will be in a way that the patient can access their own records and make those records transferable or portable between doctors, between patients and across different devices. Access to health records in a ubiquitous way is high risk. It’s something we don’t have today that identity and LOA would help with.

What’s the biggest advantage of a strong LOA scheme? 

Joni Brennan: Part of the ‘why’ behind why we’re talking about this is because we have different LOA schemes in Canada today. Those different schemes have created room for challenges and adoption delays, across different regions and different stakeholders. Different parties might be using the same assurance number – but the way they’re calculating it isn’t consistent, leading to variable outcomes. 

A level of consistency and transparency in terms of assurance – that relates to individual capability in a transaction – makes acceptance and confidence in an interaction clearer and helps the economy as a whole. It’s important for banks, governments, telecommunications providers, and users. Strength in a common acceptance and transparency would help and that’s what we’re missing right now in Canada. 

George Watt: It’s important that we develop a common understanding of these risks and establish a shared vocabulary that ensures we all evaluate risks the same way. Strong LOA schemes will enable positive economic and social impact through more robust delivery of services across domains. 
If we don’t understand those risks collectively, we either won’t deliver the services necessary to live up to our potential — or we will deliver them without understanding the risks, which could be even worse and potentially set us back. Trust is speed. A strong scheme means faster delivery of more robust and trustworthy services. Participation in these digital ecosystems will drive better seamless services for all Canadians.

Why is DIACC advocating for stronger and consistent LOAs?

Joni Brennan: We need commonality in terms of how information is verified. For that measure of assurance of information, we need a common scheme that works across the different schemes that exist in Canada today. It will create visibility and a common approach so that no matter the industry, teams can work from the same starting point for validation and verification of information. That is so important, whether it’s health or AI or smart cities. 

The current scheme and current state of the art doesn’t provide the level of dynamism required in a hyperconnected ecosystem. The current ‘1 through 4’ scheme applied on top of a complicated transaction involving many partners with different capabilities – that singular number is actually insufficient. It’s much better to have transparency, visibility, and a ‘score card’, if you will, that measures assurance that is verified. That’s the kind of dynamism and transparency we need in a hyperconnected ecosystem, that provides scalability in an LOA scheme. 
George Watt: What we had was good – but it needs to evolve to keep up with what we’re dealing with now. We need to solve tomorrow’s challenges today, not yesterday’s problems. A more modern approach to LOAs is necessary to make that happen.

What will be the biggest factor for success? 

George Watt: Bringing the public and private sector together and bridging the many international standards groups… I think the defining factor for success will be collaboration. There are lots of smart people who’ve been thinking about this. More importantly this assurance scheme will work best when private and public sector, NGO and standards orgs work together to create a more trustworthy, more robust ecosystem that allows Canada to live up to its potential. Collaboration will be key. 

Joni Brennan: Collaboration will also represent a diversity of stakeholder needs and values – which is important to ensure the way forward is as inclusive as it can be. Success requires communication and education around the why – why we’re doing this work, the value, as well as how this work will be adopted. 

As George said, for people participating in a transaction these LOAs are meant to be invisible. They’re not always the most exciting or technical part of the work – but they provide that layer of integrity underneath the technology and user experience. To succeed, we’ll need education and communication.

George Watt: Diversity is the rocket fuel of innovation. Working with DIACC, I’ve always been impressed by the diversity of membership and those who participate. It’s a diverse group of smart people who are willing to come together to work on important and complex problems.

Bring your voice to the DIACC and share your perspective on how we can solve these pressing, complex challenges. Together, through our Five Year Strategy, we’re aiming to identify key policy and regulatory enablers and barriers to digital identity growth, including creating a unified approach to LOAs. Join us and subscribe for more on LOAs in Canada.