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Canada shied away from national digital ID in 2019; SecureKey suggests a different path

Canada shied away from national digital ID in 2019; SecureKey suggests a different path

The Canadian government considered developing a national digital ID system two years ago, but ultimately shelved the idea with little fanfare, according to a report from the federal Employment Department to the Senate’s social affairs committee, writes the Vancouver Sun.

Other than identity documents provided to immigrants and new arrivals to the country, ID is an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction in Canada.

A Senator asked whether any work had been done towards replacing the Social Insurance Number (the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Social Security Number) with a digital identifier, prompting the report. It says that a consultation process was co-led by the integrity services branch of the department in 2019, along with the Treasury Board, but the system was abandoned because of potential vulnerability to data breaches.

The consortium approach

In the vacuum created by that decision, the country’s private sector players are considering a future for Canadian digital identity based on decentralization, self-sovereign identity (SSI), and consortiums, as described in an article for Frontiers by SecureKey Chief Identity Officer Andre Boysen.

Boysen explains the concept of SSI, and how SecureKey’s Verified.Me uses a hybrid approach to implement SSI principles through a federated and decentralized system for digital identity verification.

The company worked with collaborators including most of the country’s biggest financial institutions, BMO, CIBC, Desjardins, National Bank of Canada, RBC, Scotiabank, and TD, in a four-year process to build the blockchain system underpinning Verified.Me. Its development followed development of the SecureKey Concierge federated authentication system, which was launched in 2012, however, and Boysen says the banks and government had learned from that collaboration.

The article goes on to discuss the place of SecureKey and decentralized identity within the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework, and how blockchain supports a triple-blind data sharing architecture.

The consortium approach including public and private sector parties can take advantage of the benefits typically associated with each, Idemia Marketing Manager Marie-Sophie Bellot argues in an editorial for Global Government Forum.

“The government brings trust and legitimacy,” says Bellot, “But the private sector is a catalyst. It accelerates a digital ID programme. Most citizens only file taxes once a year, but they interact with their banks on an ongoing basis.”

Bellot describes a virtuous cycle for citizens, businesses and governments that comes about when government stand up digital ID to deliver a service, and it is adopted for private sector use. This is possible even in countries like the UK, where instead of a universal government ID system, various government documents are used to establish trust.

“The establishment of a state-issued digital identity goes hand-in-hand with current reflections leading to a greater emphasis on regulation and the role of the state. The pandemic has demonstrated more than ever the great return of states in the capacity to provide care, vaccines or to help the economy resume,” Bellot concludes. “What is more sovereign than managing the identity of a population?”

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