Can I see some (digital) ID?
How many times have you accessed government services online and had to sign in multiple times to find the information you’re looking for? It can be a pretty cumbersome and time-consuming experience. But as any good infomercial would tell you, ’there’s a better way!” And that better way is a Government of Canada Digital ID – a simple and secure way to access online government services.
What’s it all about?
If this scenario sounds familiar to you, it’s because we discussed it in a previous Living Digital article on Tell Us Once, a single window to access government services. Digital Identity (or Digital ID) works with Tell Us Once as a dynamic duo to improve service user experience for online GC services. So, what exactly is Digital ID, you ask? I had the same question, so I met with Po Tea-Duncan, Acting Executive Director of Cyber Security at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) and her team to get a better understanding of this concept.
The Digital ID team is part of the Office of the Chief Information Officer of Canada within TBS. The Director of the team, Michael Goit, describes Digital ID as “a tool for Canadians to access government services in a seamless and secure way”. And “seamless” is the key word here, because if you’ve ever tried to access government services from multiple departments and agencies (or various commercial websites, for that matter) it can be downright maddening trying to remember all those usernames and passwords.
“Currently, you have to input your email and password to access different types of government services offered by different departments. This leads to fragmentation. Digital ID would be a single key to open up all the doors.”
The GC currently has 33 departments managing over 270 online government programs and services. That can be a lot of passwords to remember. “Currently, you have to input your email and password to access different types of government services offered by different departments. This leads to fragmentation. Digital ID would be a single key to open up all the doors”, explained Michael.
The team was quick to point out that even though it would act as a single key for multiple doors, anonymity is still important. That’s why each government online program will only know about the interactions you’ve had with them. For example, if I use my Digital ID for a service provided by Health Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency wouldn’t know. It would be kind of like using your provincial driver’s license to prove your age to purchase a bottle of wine. When you renew your license at the licensing office, they wouldn’t know that you bought that bottle of wine. I suppose you could voluntarily offer up that information and maybe strike up a conversation about grape varieties with the customer service representative, but that’s a whole different article.
Can I see some ID?
As things around us become more and more digital, it poses a security challenge. How can the GC make sure government transactions are happening by the person they claim to be? That’s part of what the Digital ID team is working to address.
“It’s a way of proving to the GC that it’s you accessing your personal information and not someone else. It’s a more robust way of proving you are who you say you are. ”
As much as they want to streamline access to online government services, Po and her team know that identity information is a sensitive information asset for the GC and Canadians alike. That’s why security plays such a huge role in the project: “The other side to Digital ID is security”, explains Po. “It’s a way of proving to the GC that it’s you accessing your personal information and not someone else. It’s a more robust way of proving you are who you say you are.” No fake digital IDs getting you into the clubs here.
Michael brought up another challenge – and expanded my digital vocabulary at the same time: credential sprawl. As he explains it, credential sprawl is defined as too many passwords for too many websites. According to Michael, not only is it too difficult to remember so many passwords, but “If you’re making a ton of different passwords for all these websites, chances are they’re not going to be very strong. Digital ID aims to reduce that with a single sign-in.” An even worse phenomenon that a lot of us are guilty of: using the same username and password for multiple websites. Digital ID can help address that bad habit too.
Moving the digital needle to the right
“We’ve seen high-profile cyber attacks on institutions both here and around the world. We can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to Canadians’ privacy and sensitive information.”
We often hear the word “digital” being used to describe how services need to evolve. But why is this transformation so important? Well for starters, government must keep up with advancements in technology and its rapid adoption by the private sector. And as technology advances, so too are those who seek out its vulnerabilities: “We’ve seen high-profile cyber attacks on institutions both here and around the world. We can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to Canadians“ privacy and sensitive information”, argued Michael.
The other reason? “COVID has propelled digital in a major way”, explained Po. “Canadians now expect to be able to receive services online that they used to access in-person. So the expectations have shifted dramatically.”
One ID to rule them all
The team is making great strides and it’s really exciting to think about just how easy and secure Digital ID will ultimately make accessing government services. As the interview wraps up, I ask the team what Digital ID means to them. For Po, it’s about “enabling secure and trusted online government services.” Michael takes it one step further: “Digital ID is about enabling trust in digital transactions and having it be fully digital end-to-end.” That means that the digital transaction is carried out in a digital format all the way through – no paper required.
However you describe it, Digital ID and Tell Us Once have the potential to transform the way Canadians interact with government and access the services they need. It’s kind of like being invited to a really exciting party.
Just make sure to bring some (digital) ID.
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