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Canadian fed CIO warns funding, focus needed for digital ID progress

Desjardins funding for Canadian digital identity lab
Canadian fed CIO warns funding, focus needed for digital ID progress

Canada is “very behind” others on the adoption of digital identification to access government services, cautioned the country’s chief information officer Catherine Luelo at a digital ID and authentication workshop, according to IT World Canada.

The statement from Luelo at the ​IdentityNORTH Spring Workshop comes as the country takes incremental steps both federally and provincially to integrate digital ID. Though a survey shows that most Canadians are in favor of a digital ID, a federal digital ID has yet to be realized. British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario have progressed on their own provincial digital ID plans, while Saskatchewan put its plans on hold.

But as an additional sign of the plodding progress, a 2021 deadline to release a digital ID in Ontario was delayed with no new date for rollout, CTV News reports. The broadcaster says the Ontario government has removed an updated 2022 deadline for the project from its website and government officials did not respond to requests for comment by publishing time. Ontario’s provincial digital ID was delayed because of the development of the province’s proof-of-vaccination app.

“We had been in a position of being in front, and we are falling behind — in fact we’re very far behind,” on digital ID, which threatens Canada’s competitiveness, Luelo said.

Market research from Juniper Research predicts the number of digital ID users globally will exceed 6.5 billion by 2026 from 4.2 billion in 2022, accelerated from the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of digital identity to access government services.

Luelo says federal and provincial government bureaucracies can move fast when needed, such as the swift digitization of Canada’s vaccine passport apps to travel by plane and train.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Treasury Board President Mona Fortier to address Canada’s Digital Government Strategy in a mandate letter that includes a “common and secure approach for a trusted digital identity platform to support seamless service delivery to Canadians across the country.”

While Luelo believes “we’ve got a coalition of the willing at the political level,” on digital ID, she bemoaned the lack of “purposeful actions funding, resourcing and, frankly focus.” Luelo listed outdated IT systems, confusion over roles that the government and private sector will occupy, and misinformation about digital identity that have stymied its acceptance.

Fringe party equates online service access to social credit scores

The Ontario Party, a fringe conservative party in the province’s legislature, called for Ontario to halt the digital ID program as the party believes it violates civil liberties and privacy rights, which “point toward progression to a dystopian communist Chinese-style ‘social credit’ system,” according to IT World Canada. Government figures who oversee digital ID plans speaking at IdentityNORTH told IT World Canada that it is an example of how misinformation is spreading, and that civil servants must educate the public about the technology.

Despite the setbacks, Luelo promised that there would be staff devoted to the digital ID program and milestones to demonstrate progress in Ottawa. Luelo emphasized that governments must listen to what Canadians want, telling the IdentityNORTH crowd, “Government delivered well in a digital way has the great opportunity to create the environment for trust. And trust is the foundation of democracy.”

Desjardins supports digital ID lab in Canada

Desjardins, a Canadian financial services cooperative, contributes CAD$845,000 (approximately US$671,500) for a non-profit digital ID lab to support the development and acceptance of digital ID in Canada.

“Given the increasing speed of the transition to digital technologies, Desjardins Group must work with the best in the industry to develop a real digital identity. We need to offer people-centric solutions that give users full control over the data they share. Desjardins Group’s contribution to the Digital Identity Laboratory shows how much we believe in, support and encourage the adoption of best practices in security and privacy protection,” comments Guy Cormier, president and CEO of Desjardins Group.

The Digital Identity Laboratory of Canada (IDLab) is based in Gatineau, Quebec, and supports public and private initiatives to establish interoperable, user-centric digital identity solutions in Canada as a digital ID sandbox to test platforms for compliance. Such activities include research, assessment, auditing, testing, and certification of digital identity components. IDLab offers its solutions federally and in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan.

“We’d like to thank Desjardins for recognizing and supporting the lab’s mission. The funds provided will be used to make the investments needed to ensure the Lab’s financial independence, creating a lasting foundation for the organization’s expertise and long-term sustainability,” says Pierre Roberge, general manager of the IDLab.

“Digital identities are increasingly recognized as a way to give people back control over their information, while also offering a more streamlined and secure experience, whether online or in person.”

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