Two years ago the COVID-19 pandemic beset upon the globe a need for virtual accessibility; industries from banking to technology to government pointed out the need for the digitization of everything. Interac CEO, Mark O’Connell, wrote about this as it relates to digital ID in an editorial for The Hill Times in October 2020. Only a short year-and-a-half later we’ve moved from recognition of the need, to real-world examples of how digital identity is being embedded in services as varied as health care visits to accessing a tax filing. As we’ve seen via these global examples, there has never been more opportunity to make citizens’ lives easier, more efficient, and secure. And yet those same examples underscore the need for those services to give citizens confidence, privacy, and agency over their own data.
Those of us in positions to influence how digital ID comes to life must make fundamental decisions, and those decisions – about access, security, and responsibility – will reverberate for decades to come. It is important that we get it right, and that we get it right working in collaboration across the ecosystem.
As the operators of Canada’s debit network, Interac helps provide people with control over their money so they can get more out of life. We understand what it takes to ensure consistency and the secure transfer of money and data throughout the country, operating across multiple regulatory systems and managing relationships with governments, financial institutions, acquirers, merchants, and consumers. And, as one of Canada’s most trusted financial brands, we ensure that despite all this complexity, Canadians have confidence their transactions will be secure and friction-free.
Our experience makes us uniquely qualified to drive the growth of digital ID in Canada and informs our sense of responsibility to deliver platforms and services that work for all Canadians. Central to this is our goal to build a trust network which supports increased confidence in, and usage of digital ID across Canada. Our experience also underscores a belief that bridging the public and private sectors to deliver digital ID capabilities is fundamental to support the growth of Canada’s innovation economy.
This is where both the public and private sectors can benefit from a collaborative approach.
Taking a comprehensive approach to building a digital ID ecosystem
Government-issued identity documents such as birth certificates and permanent resident cards are foundational to our current, physical ID system. They are used to verify identity, access services and are also the basis for how we obtain many other forms of identity including drivers licences, passports and bank cards.
In an interoperable digital ID system, government-issued identity must serve as a foundation, ensuring trust and legitimacy for each person. Without this, there is a risk of fraud as certain identity credentials remain targets and a possibility of market fracture, whereby multiple closed and proprietary ecosystems limit scale and prevent growth. We have seen this in other markets where digital ID is currently being advanced such as the United States.
But government identity documents are not the only way in which we access services and verify our identities today. Thanks to our uniquely concentrated financial and banking sector, Canada has developed and advanced identity verification models utilizing bank credentials which bring secure digital ID services to more than 29 million Canadians. These systems can be strengthened for the benefit of Canadians as a means for accessing government and other private sector services.
This is not to say that Canada needs to have a single digital ID system. But with government IDs as key foundational elements, and the connection through financial institutions to Canadians from coast to coast, the system can provide an open and standards-based approach, reduce friction between these systems, and ensure interoperability.
Solutions must be collaborative and transparent
Even the most technically sophisticated digital ID system will fail if it doesn’t enjoy the public’s trust.
How can we build that trust?
Through collaboration, transparency, and openness.
Interac believes in these values and demonstrates them through our work with the Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC), a non-profit coalition of public and private sector leaders looking to create Canada’s digital ID framework together.
Through this work, Interac participated in the release of the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework, the set of rules that will govern the sharing of information between participants in the digital economy. It is a critical first step in building Canada’s digital ID system. Interac has also been helping governments take the steps that follow, through our work with the CIO Strategy Council on digital identity standards, and through support for the Digital Identity Laboratory of Canada.
It is our belief that, working through these steps collaboratively with governments across Canada, we can help guide the system to scale and interoperability, similar to how Canada’s payment system operates today.
The path forward
There is an opportunity in digital ID – an opportunity to transform the way government delivers services, catalyze innovation from coast to coast, and make Canadians’ lives more convenient.
Digital ID holds significant promise for businesses, particularly those small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that form the backbone of Canada’s economy. DIACC estimates SMEs stand to gain $4.5B in added value with access to secure, trusted digital ID.
Governments recognize this opportunity. That’s why they’re moving forward with initiatives like Ontario’s digital wallet, and Alberta’s ‘MyAlberta Digital ID’, alongside regulatory changes such as privacy reform and the Federal Digital Charter.
Canadian banks recognize this opportunity. Together, financial institutions invested in SecureKey to help it grow authentication services for consumers, businesses and governments. In 2021, Canada’s financial institutions supported an Interac agreement to acquire the Canadian business contracts and technology of SecureKey, further strengthening the digital ID ecosystem overall.
We applaud this momentum. The world moves more quickly than ever, and the global digital ID market has seen significant growth in recent years. By continuing this momentum – and by seeking out partners who can lend their experience – together we can lay the foundations of a system that will support Canadian innovation, competitiveness, and growth for years to come.