Canada Partners with the European Commission to Examine Use of Digital Credentials

McMillan | Robbie Grant, Kristen Pennington | Dec 7, 2021

With an increasing number of human interactions taking place in the digital world, there is a growing need for efficient and secure digital services.

To that end, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada recently announced a partnership between the Government of Canada and the European Commission to examine the use of digital credentials.[1] Standards for digital credentials are intended to improve privacy and global functionality, allowing governments and businesses (and their customers) to feel more secure in using such credentials.

Notably, Ontario has already begun developing its Digital Identity Program, which will provide a digital option for government issued identification in the province.[2]

What are digital credentials?

As the name suggests, digital credentials are the digital equivalents of ordinary physical credentials, such as passports, licenses, diplomas, educational certificates or tickets. They may appear as a badge in an email signature, an identification card in a digital wallet, or a certificate on a company’s website.

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Digital credentials are generally used for the same purposes as their physical counterparts, including to confirm a person’s identity or qualifications. In order to perform this authentication function reliably and efficiently, digital credentials often have confirmatory information built right into the digital credential, in a manner that is difficult to fake. For example, a digital driver’s license may have meta-data or a digital watermark that includes the subject’s name, birthdate or photograph. The digital credential may also provide a method to automatically confirm the credential online with its source, such as through a verifiable data registry.[3]

In the private sector, businesses might use digital credentials externally (e.g., for membership and loyalty or rewards programs with customers) or internally (e.g., to verify education credentials and certifications in the hiring process). Businesses may also use digital credentials to verify an individual’s identity or to serve as proof of purchase (e.g., an airline ticket or conference admission pass).

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The aim of digital credentials is to increase security, accessibility and efficiency when operating and interacting online. By allowing individuals to prove certain credentials about themselves, digital credentials are intended to provide a more privacy-friendly alternative to centralized digital user records or traditional paper records.

What came from this partnership?

Canada and the European Commission explored the use of digital credentials through workshops examining (i) the current technology and policy landscapes, (ii) areas of commonality, and (iii) gaps that need to be addressed to enable mutual support for the use of digital credentials.

There are several key gaps and challenges highlighted in the report from these workshops (the “Report”)[4], which center on the need for consistent standards.

The Report found that a variety of digital credential technologies already exist across different economic sectors and jurisdictions, which has led to the development of different standards in isolation.

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