digital identity

Ontario introduces program that could replace physical ID cards with phones

The Ontario government just introduced a new project that, if all goes well, would eliminate our need to carry around physical health cards, driver's licenses and other forms of provincially-issued ID .

It may not be great news for the high school kid using his older brother's G1 to buy beer, but it would make life a lot simpler for almost everyone else... especially when it comes to the process of replacing lost cards.

Premier Doug Ford and Peter Bethlenfalvy, chair of the government's newly-established "Future State Modernization Committee," announced what they're calling the "Digital Identity program" on Monday as part of a sweeping action plan called Ontario Onwards: Ontario's COVID-19 Action Plan for a People-Focused Government.

One of more than 30 projects intended to "improve the way people and businesses interact with government, saving them both time and money," the digitial identity program would essentially allow Ontario residents to port their government-issued identification documents into a digital wallet.

"Verified, digital information about you, such as the information found on your health card, driver's licence and birth certificate, can be securely stored in a digital wallet on your smartphone and conveniently used to prove your identity to access services when required," explained the government in a release announcing the action plan.

It sounds a lot like adding your debit card to Apple Pay, or amalgamating all of your loyalty reward point cards into one app like Stocard, so that you can use your phone for everything and not have to scramble around in a purse or wallet at every transaction point.

Of course, it would be a bit harder than porting your Quizno's card into an app — and hopefully more secure.

"A Digital Identity is established by first verifying your identity," reads a government press release explaining how this would work. "Digital Identity documents are then saved in a Digital Wallet on a mobile device — helping people and businesses verify their identity anywhere."

"With Digital Identity, Ontario is helping to combat identity fraud and protect data," the release continues. "Strong encryption and privacy protecting technology secures personal information such as name, birthdate, or address."

In theory, the switch to digital identities would make it way easier to access government services online, saving people from the mood-ruining horrors of waiting in line all day at Service Ontario.

"A farmer could register a farm vehicle online without needing to spend a day in the car travelling to government offices," notes the release. "A senior could securely share health information with caregivers."

Cool and clutter-eliminating as the idea may seem, it's important to note that these changes are far from imminent. First, the government has to figure out how, exactly, they'll be rolling out the program.

The provincial government says it will begin consulting with the industry in January on "how the province could introduce a secure Digital Identity for the people of Ontario by the end of 2021."

No word yet on whether such documents as SIN numbers and work permits would be included in Ontario's digital ID program, but British Columbia and Alberta have both "integrated their digital identities with the Federal Government to enable residents to access federal services with their provincially issued digital IDs as an alternative to linking online banking information."

The future is calling (but hopefully not while showing your license to the cops after being pulled over for speeding.)

Lead photo by

Eric L

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