Small Steps ePass becomes the first Secure Channel initiative

Before you walk – you crawl. That’s the idea behind one of the federal government’s exercises in secure ESD.

The ePass Canada system was designed to allow citizens to access programs and services through the government’s Secure Channel. Users are given unique electronic credentials to unlock whatever a given department or agency wishes to provide – including the opportunity to conduct e-commerce.

That’s what you might call “walking.” For now, however, the only thing users can do after registering on the system is change their addresses – “crawling.”

While that may not sound like much, to the folks at the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA), it’s the beginning of something big.

“You can understand from our numbers why we are interested in ePass,” said George Arsenijevic, CCRA’s director general of individual returns and payments processing. “When you talk about CCRA, you’re talking about an organization that processes $3 billion annually in revenues, handles over 23 million income tax rerturns and 1.6 million corporate returns, and sends out benefit and credit payments worth over $11 billion to 10 million eligible Canadians.

“We have a high volume of transactions and many are of a routine nature. If we can move them on to our e-commerce channels, obviously there are opportunities to improve service and keep our costs down.”

That’s where ePass Canada comes in. Arsenijevic said many paper-based programs at CCRA could thrive on the Secure Channel.

“The Secure Channel will allow these programs to get involved in e-commerce. It will let clients access their information in a very timely, cost- effective fashion.”

Although it will be some time before every department and agency is running programs and services on the Secure Channel, many citizens feel that the future is now. As of October, 7,000 people had signed up for an ePass. While they can currently only change their home addresses, mailing addresses and phone numbers, they will someday be able to use their ePass for much more.

“It’s been designed in such a way that individuals can be authenticated across government departments and use any of the programs or services the departments offer on the Secure Channel,” said Bruce Handel, director-general of business intelligence decision support and government online directorate at CCRA. “Individuals have a choice of having one ePass for dealing with all government departments, or different ePasses for their dealings with individual departments. It’s the citizen’s choice.”

While the ePass system is still in its infancy, Arsenijevic confirms that it’s operational – certificates are being generated.

“The initiative is technically working,” he said. “This has been a soft launch, and we are working the bugs out. But people are signing up for ePasses and we’re hoping that as additional services come on, more people will pick up on ePass.”