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White paper on digital ID aims to help increase trust before widespread adoption

White paper on digital ID aims to help increase trust before widespread adoption

Digital identity can be a confounding concept for the general public. To help define digital ID in a way that can be commonly understood, and to answer standard questions, four organizations have teamed up to release a white paper, focused on Canada, which argues that digital ID is a necessary step for society—but that trust issues are still a problem.

The free white paper, entitled “Peace of mind in the digital age? It’s possible!”, is the result of a collaboration by Beneva, Desjardins Group, KPMG, Telus, and Videotron, with support from the non-profit data protection organization, IDLab. Its arguments in favour of digital ID range from the practical to the economic.

“Digital ID offers a better user experience that’s streamlined and accessible, reduces fraud risk and lowers management costs,” it says. “However, statistics show that the general public and other stakeholders don’t always trust these suggested solutions, which prevents them from being adopted.” Deterrents include concerns about data breaches and privacy violations, and the sharing of sensitive biometric information.

Key messages on digital ID

The paper sets out a definition of Digital ID as “a set of verifiable credentials specific to a person (birth certificate, driver’s licence, membership card) contained in a person’s digital wallet and under the sole control of that person.” It distinguishes digital ID from personal identifiers such as a digital SIM.

A primary benefit of digital ID and digital wallets is control over one’s personal information. Its data and biometrics can be parsed out for particular situations, meaning there is less risk of sharing data that does not need to be shared, or of stolen personal information being exploited by bad actors.

“Personal information breaches and cyberattacks have intensified in recent years, and identity fraud has followed the same trend,” says the paper. “Collectively, we have come to the point where we must reinvent the way we identify ourselves, in both the digital and physical worlds. The way forward is to introduce digital identities.”

Trust issues still a barrier to adoption

If the white paper has an overarching message, it is that digital ID is necessary and inevitable, but that there is still much work to be done in winning people’s trust in the technology. The tech sector has not yet convinced many people it can or will keep their data safe.

In the digital ID model, verifiable credentials stored in a digital wallet app are authenticated through a verifiable data registry that itself stores no personal information. The paper argues that this is a safer, more secure way to manage identity. But statistics do not necessarily drive perception. In the wider world, people still worry that governments or corporations will collect their data to use against them. Organizations, meanwhile, serve as shepherds for their clients’ personal information, and themselves depend on trust for their relationships. Data breaches leading to mass identity theft can raise tough questions.

The paper argues that it is essential to strengthen trust in digital IDs, and that this can be done in part by adhering to the principles of agency, autonomy, and integrity. “Digital trust is only possible if there’s a national consensus on trust frameworks, more commonly referred to as governance frameworks,” it says, “and only if the government bodies give them the legitimacy they need by putting in place appropriate standards and regulations. Pillars and operating principles will make it possible to achieve this alignment.” The paper points to two pan-Canadian trust frameworks: “the Government of Canada model that focuses on public organizations and the Digital Identity and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) model that stems from a coalition of public and private sector leaders.”

“Digital ID relies on a collaborative ecosystem built on mutual trust. This ecosystem comprises many public and private organizations, each of which will have a pivotal role to play in their respective sectors. Every stakeholder must trust the processes and rules that will be implemented.”

“The importance of involving every stakeholder in the ecosystem and having verifiable credentials that can be used across [national] jurisdictions and internationally will require a widespread collaborative effort.”

Transition to digital ID should be handled with care

Widespread adoption of digital IDs could provide better data protection, better control over how personal information is shared, and better services. But, as underlined by the image on the final page of the white paper—a larger hand reaching out to a smaller one—there will need to be hand-holding for the majority to embrace it.

“We need to take the time to educate the public, introduce digital ID, show how it will fit into our day-to-day lives and how it will make it easier for us to access public services or businesses,” the paper says.” It concludes with a re-statement of purpose, and a whiff of self-congratulation: “This white paper is part of the desire to foster a common understanding.”

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