In September 2021, the Canadian province of Ontario announced that it would launch a digital ID for its residents by the end of the year, in what it described as “the first step toward safer, more secure ways to prove who you are online.” The launch of the digital ID has now been delayed until 2022, due to the launch of the province’s proof-of-vaccination app, Verify Ontario, according to the Associate Ministry of Digital Government.
News Ontario reported that the province spent nine months consulting with 68 organizations, more than 100 industry experts and held five two-hour roundtable discussions on digital identity. The province is not operating in a vacuum; in fact, itis developing its digital identity strategy to allow for cross-Canadian standards and is working collaboratively across the public sector to ensure alignment to standards and interoperability.
What the Digital ID offers Ontario residents
The new Digital ID will not replace the card Ontarians currently carry in their wallets; it is completely optional for residents who want the convenience of carrying their ID in their smartphone, tablet, or other device.
The Digital ID can be used to prove one’s identity in a variety of transactions, whether dealing with financial services, retail purchases, or accessing government services.
A unique aspect of Ontario’s Digital ID is that businesses can use the Digital ID to operate their business, bring on new employees or customers, and access government services for businesses.
In addition to convenience, the Digital ID gives holders control over what data they want to share during certain transactions. For example, a holder using their digital ID to prove their age at a liquor store can tap or scan their digital ID on the verifier’s reader to present (with their consent) the required identity information. These digital credentials cannot be tracked or traced by the government. All of these privacy-preserving features can be summed up as consent, data-minimization, and anonymity.
News Ontario explains, “Privacy is a core principle of Ontario’s Digital ID and is being considered in all aspects of the program and technology. Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner continues to be engaged to help inform and guide this work.”
The Verification Process
How can verifiers trust the information they see on a customer’s Digital ID? The integrity of Ontario’s Digital ID lies in the verifiable data registry behind it. The registry system links the issuing agency, the holder, and the verifier. The diagram below illustrates the components and connections in the verifiable data registry.
When a Digital ID holder presents their ID, the interaction triggers a request to the verifiable data registry to retrieve the Ontario government’s public key, which confirms that the holder’s presented credential is accurate and hasn’t been tampered with.
Ontario’s Digital ID will evolve over time
Governments across the globe are devising their own Digital ID systems, and the standards and technology behind them are rapidly evolving. As this evolution continues, Ontario will likely improve and enhance its Digital ID for the benefit of holders and verifiers alike.