Montreal

Goodbye medicare card? Quebec wants to create digital versions of government IDs

The project would include the creation of a new smartphone app, to act as a “digital wallet” to hold virtual copies of government documents, such as a driver’s licence, medicare card or birth certificate.

Facial recognition or fingerprinting could be used to confirm online identity

Éric Caire, the junior minister responsible for government digital transformation, said recent data breaches have shown there's a need for action. (Alexandre Duval/Radio-Canada)

Quebecers may soon be able to say goodbye to their physical medicare cards and driver's licences.

The Quebec government wants to create a digital identity for every citizen by 2021, Radio-Canada has learned.

Services would be accessible with a single online login, and digital versions of identification cards could be accessed through a smartphone app.

Éric Caire, the junior minister responsible for government digital transformation, said the project will also hopefully cut down on fraud.

"We are all very aware that there is a certain level of urgency," Caire said, citing the recent privacy breaches and data thefts from Capital One and Desjardins.

The new login would include a way to confirm your identity when you use government services online. The government is considering tools like facial or voice recognition software, Caire said, to prevent identity theft.

"If I take your fingerprint, your voiceprint, facial recognition … these markers can help ensure we are talking to the right person," he explained.

Caire said the government has to take steps to protect data, which he calls the "oil of the 21st century."

"We see the consequences of not doing something or doing something too late. We don't want that to happen to the government of Quebec."

Caire wouldn't say how much the project may cost.

A digital wallet

The government sent out a request for expression of interest from the private sector to see if a company is interested in taking on the project.

The project aims not only to make it easier to access public services, and would also include the creation of a new smartphone app to act as a "digital wallet."

It would hold virtual copies of government documents issued by the province, such as a driver's licence, medicare card or birth certificate.

"Take a driver's licence, for example," Caire said. "I can say: 'Here is my licence.' But depending on who I am showing it to, I can make certain pieces of information visible … and hide other information."

Caire said that citizens who prefer to use their physical identity cards will still be able to do so once the app and the new system is released.

"I think that the Quebec government must accompany citizens and not impose a way of doing things on them," he said.

Cybersecurity experts divided

Claude Vigeant, the president of cybersecurity firm Okiok, said the government is taking "a step in the right direction" with the initiative.

"It's a necessary step because it's clear to everyone, today, that static identifiers like social security numbers are obsolete," Vigeant said.

But Pascal Fortin, former president of the Montreal security company GoSecure, is asking the government to be careful, especially when it comes to biometric data.

Pascal Fortin, former president of the Montreal security company GoSecure, said that using biometric data can be an Achilles heel in terms of cybersecurity. (Radio-Canada)

"Who we are [biologically] is generally the strongest kind of authentication," he said, "but it's also a bit of an Achilles heel." 

He said that having that biometric data stolen or compromised could have "very serious consequences for one's entire life."

Fortin said because the two documents generally considered the most credible as identification — the social insurance number and the passport — are both under federal jurisdiction, he would like to see Ottawa get involved.

"I would like to see the provinces sit down together to create an approach that is shared and will be widely used by the federal government as much as possible."

Caire agreed, saying the best time for consensus is before everyone builds their own systems without thinking of how those systems would work together.

He said he also wants other organizations, such as banks and municipalities, to be able to use it as well.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Alexandre Duval

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