Amidst the great disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some jurisdictions are seizing the occasion to rethink governance and further digitalization. On October 19, 2020, the Ontario government unveiled its new Digital Identity Project, one of the more than 30 initiatives included in Ontario Onwards: Ontario's COVID-19 Action Plan for a People-Focused Government. With this plan prepared by the Future State Modernization Committee, the Ontario government has the ambition to bring major changes to the ways it designs and delivers services.

The Ontario government will begin consultations with industry regarding Digital Identity in January 2021 and hopes to introduce Ontarians to this new way of accessing and receiving government services by the end of 2021.

A Digital Identity works by providing individuals a secure, universal, and convenient way to prove their identity when they are accessing government services online. Each citizen will have access to a unique app-based Digital Wallet. But unlike our familiar wallets which can only hold so many cards, Digital Wallets, will give easy access to all the information that are important when interacting with government agencies, such as the information found on health cards, driver's licences, birth certificates and more.

The Ontario government has indicated that it is confident this will render government services more efficient and reduce the need for citizens to physically confirm their identity when applying for or receiving services. Digital Identity could also help combat identity fraud as well as increase data security and privacy. Businesses can also look forward to increased efficiency in their dealings with government agencies, as Digital Identity could remove hurtles in the registration process for licenses and permits.

For the development of the Digital Identity Project, Ontario will be able to rely on the experiences of other governments. Estonia has been a pioneer in this space with the introduction of smart-ID cards in 2002. In Canada, British Columbia and Alberta have also already developed Digital Identity systems whereby citizens can prove their identity online to access services. The Quebec government also announced in December 2019 it will work on the creation of a Digital Identity system to be implemented in 2021 and integrated within a blockchain platform by 2025.

The Ontarian initiative is a welcomed step towards more modern, digital and accessible public institutions, provided proper measures are put in place to mitigate against security and privacy risks, as well as to ensure vulnerable and less tech-literate segments of the population are properly considered during implementation.

Co Authored by Francis Langlois, Articling Student

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