Ontario Government adopts province-wide PKI initiative

The Ontario government says its recently-announced public key infrastructure (PKI) system delivers on its pledge to pull the province into the 1990s.

Chris Hodgson, chair of the Ontario Government’s Management Board of Cabinet, announced the Government of Ontario’s PKI (GO-PKI) strategy in a recent press conference at Queen’s Park in Toronto. The estimated $1.1 million contract was awarded to Ottawa-based Entrust Technologies Inc., which will provide the PKI hardware, 128-bit encryption software and system integration services.

According to Hodgson, the GO-PKI initiative will result in a more efficient delivery of government services, improved public access to information and an increase in electronic commerce transactions across private, public and commercial networks.

This shift in service access is a sign of the times, he said.

“We realize that the way most people access services today has fundamentally changed. More and more people are banking on-line or shopping on the Internet – they don’t want to be limited by nine to five hours.”

Hodgson said currently most governments are not effectively keeping up with the private sector when it comes to service delivery because they don’t have appropriate technology in place.

“Starting early next year, this technology will enable the Ontario Government to deliver secure, efficient and cost-effective services to our customers,” he said.

According to Hodgson, the PKI strategy will first be piloted on the Child-Protection Fast Track Information Project – a database containing classified information on Children’s Aid cases – and on secure Internet e-mail between government offices and departments. In the future, he said, PKI will support a number of government services including Ontario Business Connects, a business registry service, and the ability for citizens to update drivers licences or change addresses on-line.

“Through this IT strategy, which covers everything from enterprise architecture to standardized desktops, the Ontario Government is preparing to meet rising public and business demands for better, more efficient services,” he said.

In the event of “faceless transactions” over networks and the Internet, the software will provide users on both the sending and receiving ends with an electronic ID, explained Rick Spurr, senior vice-president of Entrust.

“It will allow, in the future, for up to as many as 11 million citizens to have access to governmental services in a secure electronic way,” he said.

“We (will) actually issue and manage…these electronic IDs. And all of that is done transparently to the end-user. The customer really only has to know a password and click a button to get access.”

There are three concurrent aspects to the ON-PKI strategy, Spurr said: authentication of the user, encryption and decryption of the data, and ensuring the integrity of the message.

“So I know with certainty…that I’m dealing with the government – and it’s not someone impersonating the government. And if I’m the government, I know I am dealing with citizens who claim to be who they are, and I don’t have someone – through impersonation – getting access to private records.”

Canadians have embraced electronic commerce more readily than Americans, with studies showing about 20 per cent more participating in on-line banking here than in the US, Spurr commented. He expects the ON-PKI strategy to have similar results.

But Bill St. Arnaud, senior director of network projects at Ottawa-based CANARIE Inc., is sceptical that the government is putting enough emphasis on important issues, with too much focus on PKI and not enough on the applications needed to run within the infrastructure.

“Everybody feels once you solve the PKI problem, electronic commerce will automatically happen,” he said. “They are going to be sadly disappointed.”

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