About nine months ago I said that the Globe and Mail‘s senior business writer and columnist Rita Trichur had a really good and, in my opinion, politically smart idea: If the government, she said, “is serious about putting people first, the solution is simple: Make the CRA do our taxes for us.“ It wouldn’t be a stretch she noted, the government already has the needed information ~ it gets a copy of everything we have, after all ~ and Britain, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden already offer such services.
Now she suggests something else that I really hope the government or, more likely, the Conservative opposition, will pick up: we, Canadians, she says, need a secure, government managed “Digital ID.”
The government has made tiny, baby-steps in this direction. You and I can, for example, have a GC Key ~ “a unique electronic credential issued by the Government of Canada for use with online Government services” ~ I have one to use, for example, when I log into my Veterans Affairs account to determine that my application to have my Army-issued hearing aids replaced is still stalled, just as it was months ago:
There are huge problems with this, not the least being security, but it is a step in the right direction, albeit just one very small step.
Ms Trichur says that as electronic commerce becomes more and more dominant we all need some form of trusted credential which she says is “a digital identity product for its citizens that is secure and gives people more control over their personal data … [and, she explains that] … Digital identification allows people to securely verify their identity online. It’s an electronic equivalent of paper or plastic identification such as passports or driver’s licences. Credentials can take different forms, for example, e-documents saved in a digital wallet on a smartphone, and can use a variety of technologies for authentication: passwords, security tokens, PINs or biometric data … [and these] … Verifiable digital credentials would help companies from fintechs to retailers to auto dealerships manage risk as more transactions are conducted online. It would also support entrepreneurship, by reducing paperwork and making it easier for business owners to vouch for their identities when applying for permits, loans or signing contracts with suppliers.“
She says, and I agree, that “Canada can’t afford to squander the opportunity, especially if it could help the small-business sector, which is being crushed by government-mandated shutdowns …[and she reminds us that] … Smaller companies provide nearly 70 per cent of private-sector jobs in Canada … [and she says that] … A separate study by the Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) [I added the hyperlink after looking over its organization and Board, I’m not advocating for its or its programme but I am saying that it has a reputable Board] estimates that a secure digital identity could generate $4.5-billion of added value to small and medium-sized businesses by simplifying business processes and cutting red tape such as registering for licences … [and] … It would also be a godsend for consumers, making the authentication process easier and giving them more control over which third parties can access their personal data.“
Ms Trichur tells us that “Some provinces already have digital credentials. Alberta and British Columbia, for instance, offer digital identities to their residents to securely access government services online .. [and] … Ontario has launched its own digital identity project with the aim of offering secure digital credentials by the end of 2021 … [but, while] … Those projects are a promising start, but the need for digital credentials goes far beyond accessing government services … [because] … Canada needs a secure digital identity product that works for the private sector and ordinary citizens who are wary of ceding control of their personal information to U.S. tech giants.“
She says that “A made-in-Canada solution must prioritize security and privacy. Canadians are a cautious bunch, so the only way to ensure mass adoption of such a product is to toughen up our laws and impose steep penalties for privacy breaches. Ottawa’s proposed Consumer Privacy Protection Act, introduced in November, is already being panned because it would provide businesses with loopholes to collect some personal data without consent … [and she says] … Other countries, including Estonia, Denmark and India, already offer their citizens digital identities. Canada would be wise to follow suit.” I agree whole-heartedly.
Canada has an information security agency. The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) …
… “is Canada’s national lead for foreign signals intelligence and cyber operations, and the technical authority for cybersecurity … [and one key elements of its mandate is] … helping to protect and defend Canada’s most important cyber systems.” I’m not suggesting that CSE needs to develop, operate or manage a national, secure Digital ID system but I would argue that any system that does not have its blessing (and oversight) cannot be trusted.
Canada has a long history of public-private partnerships in technology management. In the radio industry, for example, the government department responsible for managing the radio spectrum and for licensing radios stations (of all sorts) (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) works with a private (but partially government funded) advisory board which brings private sector and government engineers together at the same table to develop technical standards that conform to government aims and policies and are practical for the industry. The advisory board represents all sectors of the radio-communications field, including government agencies. Perhaps such an agency could manage a Digital ID system for Canada.
Anyway, Ms Trichur has given Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives two good platform planks ~ I’m pretty sure the Liberals aren’t interested in actually doing something that might really help ordinary working and middle-class Canadians ~ I hope the CPC picks them up.