The Newfoundland and Labrador government is hoping to launch a digital ID pilot project in 2023, with the ultimate aim of being able to confirm identities electronically.
“It’s a huge opportunity to protect the privacy of Canadians — you know, reduce fraud,” Digital Government Minister Sarah Stoodley told CBC News.
“I think we could be leaders in this space in Canada. So I’m really excited about it.”
By way of example, Stoodley points towards the current process of confirming proof of age when buying a bottle of wine at the liquor store.
A person now has to show their driver’s licence card, which displays data including a photo, address, date of birth, and licence number.
“That’s a lot of personal information,” Stoodley said.
“So really all someone needs to know is that this is my picture and that the government says that I’m of age to buy alcohol.”
She said it remains “conceptual” at the moment, but there could be an app that could simply show a green tick instead of sharing all of those personal details.
Stoodley adds that people are emailing or even faxing pictures of their identity documents all the time — and the aim is to find a better method of doing that.
“I’m going to prove to you electronically — without having to take a picture of all that and e-mail you — to prove that I’m who I say I am,” she said.
Other provinces have eyed a move in the same direction.
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Stoodley said meetings are scheduled later this month with the federal government, to look at next steps for digital credentials and how provinces are moving forward.
“Hopefully we’ll have some news on that at some point soon,” she said.
The minister said her department is currently trying to find funding to proceed with the pilot project in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Stoodley said people should not be concerned about the potential shift to digital identification, stressing that it will be optional.
And she noted that residents now have more experience with the concept, based on use of the NLVaxPass that was employed for proof of vaccination.
“They verified their identity on the app, and then they used that going into restaurants and bars and shopping malls,” Stoodley said.
“So that’s something that we’ve seen now everyone is comfortable with.”
Privacy considerations paramount
In September, provincial, territorial, and federal privacy commissioners issued a joint resolution committing to continually monitor the development of digital identity initiatives.
The resolution stressed the importance of ensuring that “rights to privacy and transparency are fully respected” throughout the process.
Stoodley said her officials have had initial discussions with the provincial privacy watchdog in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Information and privacy commissioner Michael Harvey told CBC News that digital ID involves “very sensitive” information, and the initiative can bring benefits — and risks.
“While the convenience of digital ID for online transactions would be significant for residents of the province, if such information were to be lost, improperly disclosed, or otherwise misused it could cause a great deal of harm,” Harvey said in an emailed statement.
He indicated that members of the public will need and expect “a high degree of confidence” in the privacy and security of a digital ID, and his office looks forward to further engagement with the government as the pilot project develops.