IdentityNORTH Summit: Fortier says pandemic has spurred need for digital credential initiative

Despite the many challenges that exist in creating digital identification processes, the pandemic has proven that when we need to, we can quickly move to develop and deploy digital services and infrastructure to better serve Canadians, Treasury Board president Mona Fortier said today.

In her opening keynote at IdentityNORTH’s 2022 Annual Summit, she said, “Essential support programs that would have normally taken several months, sometimes

Treasury Board president Mona Fortier

years to deliver were rolled out using digital means in mere weeks.

“The COVID-19 proof of vaccination when traveling within and outside of Canada showed how the federal, provincial and territorial governments can effectively collaborate on digital files.”

Fortier, who spoke to delegates virtually from her home after testing positive for COVID-19 on the weekend, added that despite the success of that and other initiatives, “we all acknowledge that it would have been easier if we had a digital credential solution in place for Canadians.

“And that leads to another important takeaway from the pandemic experience. Canadians have increasingly worked, shopped and learned online. And now they expect and need the organizations they interact with to provide easy-to-use and accessible digital options.”

The creation of a digital credential, she said, is the “key to our digital transformation efforts. It has so many potential benefits. While some have raised concerns about the security of digital credentials, in fact better security is one of its advantages.

“Once a digital credential is created and verified, participating governments greatly reduce the risk posed by innovative and ever intensifying attempts at fraud or identity theft. Furthermore, security and privacy risks will be addressed at the design stage as required by the policy on service and digital. Another important benefit is faster services.”

Her comments follow less positive ones from Catherine Luelo, the federal government’s chief information officer, in April, when she told a conference of identity professionals that Canada is falling “very far behind” other countries when it comes to digital identification and said what is needed are “purposeful actions, funding, resourcing, and, frankly focus” of all governments.

Luelo, who reports to Fortier, said when it comes to the ability to access government services online, “we need to educate Canadians a litter bit better on what digital identity is and is not.”

Meanwhile, Fortier said, “With the adoption of digital credentials and a single door for our services, the user will be able to access any government of Canada service with a single sign on. And for both businesses and government institutions, there will be considerable cost savings when manual processing is no longer required.

“While the pandemic slowed our collective progress on the digital credentials side, it also shone a spotlight on the downside of having to show up in person, especially when confronting an airborne virus or relying on non secure paper-based processes to access government services.”

She also made a pitch to the audience for digital security and digital transformation, saying it was critical that collaboration take place between the private and public sectors.

There is, said Fortier, an invitation to work collaboratively with the experts on the field, and noted “many of you are in the room today.

“I know also that time is of the essence. And as you know, we’ve had some issues with that time to get some of our services offered digitally. And we’re working, as I said, with tools that are tired, they need an upgrade.”

Additional coverage of the conference, which organizers describe as an “opportunity to hear high-profile industry leaders and experts spark conversations around key topics like privacy, compliance, security, anti-fraud and ethics,” will appear later this week.

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. His work has appeared in a number of technology magazines and online with the subject matter ranging from cybersecurity issues and the evolving world of edge computing to information management and artificial intelligence advances.

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