Governments and the private sector agree that the time has come to give Canadians a way to securely establish their identity while transacting virtually.
The innovation potential and security necessity of digital identity was clear well before COVID-19, but the pandemic only underscored the need. By shifting interactions from real life to the digital realm, the pandemic also made many Canadians feel more vulnerable to fraud. Enhanced security for digital transactions could be viewed as digital ID’s central purpose.
Interac Corp. recently announced a transaction to acquire the exclusive rights to SecureKey Technologies Inc.’s digital ID services for Canada. This transaction combines Interac market reach, innovative capabilities and brand trust with the history of SecureKey’s delivery of digital ID solutions. Interac will drive the evolution of digital ID services in Canada, leveraging the expertise and track record of SecureKey in this space.
To explain what this transaction means, and how digital ID will enhance Canadians’ data security and empower them to participate safely in an increasingly digital world, Interac In the Know spoke with Debbie Gamble, Chief Officer, Innovation Labs and New Ventures for Interac, and Greg Wolfond, CEO, SecureKey.
Interac In the Know: Let’s talk first of all about what digital ID is, and how the digital evolution of Canadians’ daily lives makes it so important.
Debbie Gamble: Digital technology has created opportunities for us to interact, to exchange information and to offer new products and services. At the same time, all this activity is creating more and more data, and naturally people have concerns about how this data is used.
That’s where digital identity comes in. Digital ID is the foundational credential — or “proof” — that you are you. A digital ID contains everything that would appear on a physical driver’s licence, for example, but is contained in a credential that protects that information and puts the user in control of what information is shared. If you need to prove you’re of age to purchase alcohol, why does the cashier need to know where you live?
A digital ID can verify the information being requested without displaying private information. It allows you to establish your identity digitally in a way that lowers the risk of theft and counterfeiting.
Greg Wolfond: People think digital identity is a digital version of a driver’s licence. It’s actually much more. Digital identity helps get things done as a human being, more easily and without exposing yourself to fraud. That’s how we would define it.
There’s a whole bunch of use cases where digital ID is really, really important. Digital ID allows you to prove that you are you, and that you consent to something — renewing your membership at Costco, getting your government pension, accessing your student loan account. Right now, if I don’t remember my login info, under a lot of current systems I’ve got to wait a week to get a code in the mail so I can prove I’m me.
What consumers want is the ability to get stuff done easier, have less friction, and be less exposed to the fraud that’s out there today.
Can you explain briefly what “Privacy by Design” means, and how it relates to digital ID?
GW: Privacy by design was a concept created by Dr. Ann Cavoukian when she was the privacy commissioner of Ontario, and the thought behind it was that we should always keep consumers front and centre in everything we do. They should consent to what they’re sharing, the consent should be explicit and understandable, and they shouldn’t be required to share more than they need to for a certain transaction.
Privacy and security by design means we should just take the minimum of information that’s needed to satisfy the use case, and not more.
An example would be, “Hey, Greg, do you consent to share from your bank your name and address for the purpose of opening an account at the Government of Canada?” That’s very clear, in contrast to terms that are pages long, where a normal human being can’t figure out what it says.
SecureKey got the ball rolling with the Verified.Me sign-in with government, where you show up at CRA’s website, or other services, and use your trusted bank login — which you’ll tend to remember, as opposed to one that you don’t need to remember often.
What’s the role Interac can play in encouraging Canadians to adopt digital ID?
DG: There’s often a trust challenge with new technology. We want the convenience that a new product or service is offering, but at the same time we may be uncomfortable or wary about what they’re going to do with our data.
We know that trust is what’s going to help drive adoption of digital ID, and we also know that Interac is one of the most trusted brands in Canada. Most Canadian adults have made services like Interac Debit and Interac e-Transfer part of their daily lives for the past four decades. Our brand powers more than six billion transactions every year, and our network stretches from coast to coast. As evidence of that, we’ve been recognized as Canadians’ most trusted financial brand in the Gustavson Brand Trust Index for seven years in a row. This is an important element to building trust with Canadians around digital ID.
When a Canadian consumer sees the Interac brand, there’s an established baseline of familiarity to reassure them that any new, streamlined way of accessing products and services can be trusted. There is also the fact that Interac is a Canadian company looking to develop digital ID solutions made by and operated by Canadians, for Canadians.
GW: Interac is a brand that everyone knows and trusts — there’s a debit card in almost everyone’s wallet, and Interac services are available on your phone. Canadians know they’re secure.
What would you say to Canadians who still have some hesitation? People who may have concerns that digital ID will expose their data or make them more vulnerable?
GW: The whole intent of the services that Interac is delivering here is to keep consumers safe. It’s to allow consumers to share information about themselves, whether it’s their name and their address or their credit score only to parties that are trusted and only with their consent, with the privacy that consumers have come to expect from Interac.
Our mission is to make sure consumers feel safer when they transact, thanks to digital ID, than they are today — and enable them to get more things done.
DG: As a network operator, Interac understands that there is a need to ensure people engaging with a digital ID network are legitimate, and that there is a way to remove them if they cannot be verified. We do this every day with payments and we are building a similar level of rigour into our digital ID services.
Our research shows that people value their identity more than they value their money, so building in robust fraud mitigation and having mechanisms embedded in the network to manage the full life cycle of digital identity must be a priority.
As with any new technology, it’s important that together, with all organizations participating in a digital ID network, we establish common standards and platforms, and uphold regulations set by governments.
How does digital identity address issues around economic inclusion and inequality?
DG: The benefit to all Canadians is only realized if digital ID is underpinned by foundational documents that every person can access. This is such an important point to make, knowing that Interac will build and operate a Canadian digital ID network with the ability to connect governments, consumers and service providers at a scale accessible to every Canadian. It’s critical that this network is accessible without any barriers that stem from who you are or where you live. We believe that digital ID can serve as a bedrock for an inclusive digital economy that is a source of opportunity for all, if implemented thoughtfully.
GW: It’s on us to make this accessible and to make it bilingual.It has to work everywhere. It has to work on a library computer, or if you don’t happen to have the latest smartphone. It has to work across platforms. We’ve worked pretty hard on making sure Verified.Me does work anywhere, including a shared computer. And the data is not stored there.
In terms of economic growth and opportunity, where do you see digital ID having the biggest impact?
DG: Paving the way for future opportunity is one of our core principles for digital ID. It’s not an end in itself, it’s a catalyst for more convenient services — whether that’s innovations in government service delivery, open banking, payments modernization, or a better experience in situations where large numbers of people need to have their ID verified. We’ve developed white papers which identify a number of instances where digital ID could have a big impact, from air travel to healthcare. Ultimately we’re excited to see how public- and private-sector innovators across this country respond to the opportunity.