The pandemic pressed fast forward on technology and created an expectation for faster and better digital services. The mandate letters of the Trudeau administration are a clear signal that the government has no intention of taking its foot off the gas. Rather, efforts related to expanding open data initiatives and leveraging data to expand and improve citizen services will be accelerated.
At the heart of this vision is digital identification (digital ID) which is described as a platform to support seamless service delivery to Canadians across the country. In a recent interview with TechNation, the Chief Information Officer for Canada, Catherine Luelo, confirmed that pursuing the implementation of a digital ID was one of her top priorities.
But, the government faces a trust deficit, impacting how readily Canadians will adopt digital IDs implemented by the government. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, government leaders are trusted by less than half of Canadians, and seen as the least trustworthy of all societal leaders.
Given the low adoption rate of the government’s COVID Alert app, where only one in five Canadians downloaded it, the government must build back trust in a society where nearly six in 10 Canadians are more distrusting than trusting.
But trust is not a just a hurdle faced in Canada. The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Accenture, developed an executive guide to help organizations navigate the transformation to digital ID entity ecosystems. The issue of trust is tackled within the guide, which advises building trust in two ways for successful deployment of digital IDs: establishing trust frameworks by building a common set of principles, rules and standards for all participants within the digital ID ecosystem, and establishing trust anchors by incorporating traditionally trusted organizations such as banks or utility providers.
The guide also notes that digital IDs are already prevalent amongst the private sector with 6.2 billion identity apps expected to be in service by 2025 and that governments, globally, are beginning to put the infrastructures in place for a future of digital IDs.
As of August 2020, governments around the world launched approximately 165 digital, or partially-digital, identity schemes. In 2020, Australia announced that digital ID would be a major focus of its AUS$800-million technology budget and, as part of NextGenerationEU, France and Germany have allocated €72m and €200m respectively into a European Identity Ecosystem. Governments are also announcing new initiatives to reform their regulatory frameworks to allow for digital ID such as the EU Digital Wallet and Trust Framework.
From a technology and policy perspective, a digital ID for all citizens is practical and doable, indicating a national digital ID strategy for Canada is realistic – especially in a post-pandemic world where technology adoption will continue to accelerate.
But as trust is the foundation of a digital ID strategy, there is work to be done in getting Canadians and ecosystem partners onside. Trust will remain the core challenge faced by government in implementing this strategy, over and above technology and policy.
Citizens need to trust that their privacy and data is safe, secure and respected, only used for government purposes when consent is provided.
There must also be trust between governments globally. Think of international passports, for example. Governments trust that they are each doing their due diligence in checking and verifying the integrity of citizen information. In Canada, a truly national digital ID would require collaboration across all sectors and jurisdictions: healthcare, transportation, education, services and immigration to name a few. Canadian governments would have to work together, and trust would be the foundation of this cooperation.
During the pandemic, Canadian governments had difficulty collaborating on national approaches to tackling COVID-19. Each province designed their own vaccination passports and some, like the Province of Alberta, created their own tracking app. Bridging gaps and fostering collaboration between such a diverse ecosystem was and is difficult and trust must be rebuilt between Canadian governments before the concept of a national digital ID program can be truly brought forth. Otherwise, such a national program is doomed to fail.
The olive branch in this story is that collaboration and trust is indeed possible. The creation of the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework in 2016, which brought together the Canadian public and private sector to agree on a way forward in standardizing processes and practices across the ecosystem to facilitate the growth in trusted digital services, is an excellent example of coast to coast to coast collaboration and a step forward to realizing the benefits of a national digital ID strategy.
Digital ID can help to deliver significant value through greater efficiency for organizations, transforming user experience, reducing costs, and powering the development of new services and products. It also has the potential to eliminate risk associated with fraud and identity theft by embedding digital trust through secure identification and verification.
But, to bear the fruits of digital ID, the population must be bought into the concept and buying into it requires trust. Trust between Canadians and their governments.
Mark Lambert, Senior Managing Director – Canada Federal Public Service Lead, Accenture