Canadian businesses should be working on digital ID solutions in anticipation of the release of federal and provincial initiatives, says an Alberta government innovation lab.
“There’s a huge appetite from the private sector to leverage government [digital] ID, and as soon as it becomes fully adopted across Canada, we’re going to see a huge surge in private adoption,” said Azim Esmail, head of growth and partnerships at Calgary-based ATB Ventures.
In support of that, the company released an infographic on Tuesday showing that not only the federal government, but five provinces — including four of the country’s most populous — have either issued or are working on issuing digital IDs for their citizens.
“A significant digital identity ecosystem in Canada is emerging, backed by federal initiatives,” the infographic says in part. “The need for all provinces to adopt digital identities is more urgent than ever,” it goes on, citing a 44 per cent increase in fraud in 2022 compared to 2021.
“Digital identity is the key to unlock a secure, trusted, & convenient digital world,” the infographic also says. And, it adds, it has the potential to generate $15 billion in economic growth and innovation in Canada.
That map, however, also shows five provinces — Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI — and the territories either haven’t started or are at very early stages of digital ID.
The goal of releasing the graphic, Esmail said in an interview, is to show Canada “is a lot further along in digital ID transformation than some think”… “Things are moving along well.”
ATB Ventures, which is a wing of the government of Alberta-owned ATB Financial bank, has a stake in digital IDs: One of its projects, Oliu, sells a cloud-based suite of digital identity products organizations can use to issue and verify digital credentials. Another project, Proof, is a digital wallet for carrying digital ID on smartphones.
Digital IDs are ways governments and businesses can confirm a person’s identity online for accessing services. They can be in the form of a digital number, biometric, or universal card for accessing a range of provincial and federal services. Ideally, one ID card or digital ID can be used for visits to a doctor’s office, renewing a driver’s licence and accessing federal income tax accounts.
In addition to a federal initiative, the country’s most populous provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec — along with Newfoundland and Labrador are working on digital ID plans.
B.C., with its 21-year old BCeID card, is considered the furthest ahead. Alberta issued its MyAlberta digital ID in 2015. Newfoundland hopes to launch a pilot project this year. Ontario’s project has been delayed by Covid-19 and it won’t say when it will start.
Not all provincial services are yet connected to their digital IDs.
While the purpose of the graphic is to show progress, Esmail couldn’t say when most of the country will be able to enroll for a digital ID. Quebec’s effort is scheduled to launch in 2025.
It’s “still unknown when this transformation’s going to happen,” Esmail admitted. It could be “a couple of years, or a multi-year journey.”
ATB Venture’s Oliu was launched last September. Asked what’s happened since, Esmail said “we don’t have any publicly launched partnerships that we are able to talk about now, but we’re seeing a number of organizations that are experimenting and building prototypes and working on solutions that can integrate into their product stack in the future. As they are talking to the market, the question that is regularly coming to light is, where are governments at with their efforts?” That led to the release of the infographic.
The infographic says three-quarters of Canadians surveyed agreed it’s important for the government to move quickly to enable a trusted and secure digital ID. However, that leaves a lot of residents still skeptical. In fact, last year, former Alberta premier Jason Kenny said Alberta’s plans to implement a digital ID are an “internet, urban legend.”
Opponents are “a small contingent that speaks loudly,” Esmail said, noting that their fears are understandable in light of news reports of data breaches in both the public and private sectors.
Part of combating that fear is through education, like the infographic, he said. “The reality is, it’s all about how things are implemented.” The Pan Canadian Trust Framework, an effort by Canadian governments and businesses to create a secure digital identity ecosystem, should reassure Canadians because it is built on the idea of a decentralized system that puts control of personal information in the hands of users.