On October 19, the government of Ontario announced a new digital identity project that aims to protect data, combat identity fraud, and provide access to government services in an easier, more secure way.

Digital IDs will contain information found on health cards, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates. The project is part of “Ontario Onwards: Ontario’s Covid-19 Action Plan for a People-Focused Government” and is expected to be in widespread use by 2022.

“The Action Plan is a roadmap to guide us and bring major change to government,” stated Peter Bethlenfalvy, president of the Ontario Treasury Board, in a news release last month. “This Action Plan outlines our vision for how we’ll achieve a modern, efficient, and customer-focused government.”

In an interview with The Medium, Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for Bethlenfalvy, addressed the digital ID project’s goals, its benefits, and its implemented privacy features.

“There are numerous real-world applications of digital identity which will make the lives of all Ontarians easier and more convenient,” said Skamski. “A digital wallet will let them securely store verified information on their smartphones and use it to prove their identity to access more services online.”

In a press release last month, the government of Ontario stated that digital IDs would allow small business owners to register for permits and licenses online, farmers to register a farm vehicle online without needing to stand in-line at a government office, and seniors to share health information with caregivers.

“Parents with young kids will [also] be able to easily access their children’s immunization records and share them online with their childcare providers [and] schools,” continued Skamski. “[This means] saving time and following Covid-19 protocols like social distancing.”

However, experts have expressed privacy concerns for digital IDs. Andrew Clement, professor emeritus and faculty of information coordinator at the University of Toronto, proposed that businesses and services that accept digital IDs should offer digital receipts.

“It’s about transparency and accountability,” Clement told Toronto News. “You should know when you conduct a transaction that you have some indication from whoever you’re doing that with—basically a commitment—to use as little as possible and for only these purposes.”

Liquor retailers, for example, would use digital IDs to verify age without revealing other personal information such as name, address, or birth date. Clement argues that if businesses are forced to implement transparency, they would only take the necessary information.

Ontario citizens have brought up other concerns, including intrusive surveillance, tracking people’s location, and data breaches.

“Your privacy and the security of your information are our top priority when designing and implementing digital identity,” stated Skamski. “We are building [principles] from the beginning of program design.”

Digital IDs will come with strong encryption and privacy-protecting technology to secure personal information. The government of Ontario will work with the Office of Information Privacy Commissioner to perform Privacy Impact and Threat Risk Assessments, ensuring that the project meets its highest privacy protection standards.

The government will also work with an expert panel to help modernize cyber-security across the Ontario Public Sector. “Leveraging their skills and experience will enable the province to strengthen the resiliency of our digital infrastructure,” said Skamski.

Those who are concerned about digital IDs still have the option to opt-out. “The use of digital identity will be completely voluntary,” concluded Skamski.

“While in-person options will be available, every person online means one less person in line,” he continued. “When people choose online options, the service experience gets better for those who need to go in person.”

The government of Ontario will consult with the industry on how the province can implement a secure digital ID by the end of 2021.

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