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In Conversation With

In Conversation With Dave Nikolejsin

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Each month, PlaceSpeak presents a Q&A with experts in urbanism, public engagement, and civic technology.

This month, we chatted with Dave Nikolejsin, Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) Board Chair and Deputy Minister, Ministry of Natural Gas Development for the Province of British Columbia.

Previously, Dave was appointed as Chief Information Officer for the Province of BC in 2005. Earlier in his career, Dave spent two years as the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the Network BC initiative.Through his leadership in this project, Dave played a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide by connecting many rural and remote communities in British Columbia to high-speed broadband.

Q: How did you become involved in the area of digital identity authentication and DIACC?

A: I first became engaged in the need for a working Digital Identity solution when I was CIO for the Province of BC.  At the time we had big ideas about how to put government on-line.  I spent a lot of time thinking through what I called “the hard stuff” – what citizens would call “the valuable stuff” – like getting people connected on-line to their health records and services.  As anyone who spends any time in that space knows, even-today those really high value services are not on-line for the simple reason that we cannot afford to make mistakes over who gains access to them by dealing with the wrong person over the Internet.  The consequences of a mistake are just too high.

I have continued with the topic through my various other jobs because there’s still no solution for enabling online access to high value information and services at the scale of the whole digital economy, and each new role I’ve taken has shown me just how important it is that we see this through to end of job.  DIACC is a key meeting place for like-minded people in both the public and private sectors that believe in the creation of robust ecosystem for secure, privacy respectful digital ID.

Q: What are some examples of successful digital identity authentication implementation in countries around the world?

A: Around the world countries are developing strategies that are aligned to their needs.  And perhaps just as critical, countries and economic regions are also working together to ensure that the common goal of global interoperability is met. The digital economy is global. Given this global nature, the success of one’s own country depends upon the ability to take part in cross border commerce and trade.

This said, solutions that are culturally and constitutionally acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in all countries. We are seeing a global digital identity ecosystem develop and interoperability at the technology and policy layers is critical.

In the U.K. for example, the public sector has chosen the model “digital by default.” The U.K Identity Assurance Program (IDAP) rolled out the GOV.UK Verify service that leverages an identity broker hub to enable citizens and residents to use private sector issued credential to access federal government services.  While in Denmark NemID, a national electronic ID and digital signature infrastructure has been established. This program provides digital ID to all Danish citizens aged 15 and above.  While in the U.S. multiple initiatives including the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), the General Services Administration’s 18f, and the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate are addressing digital identity policy and technology by funding pilots and research.

But in Canada, we have real advantages.  Our vast country is based upon a federated model and, as such, we work together to develop solutions that will work from Canada’s cities to our interior territories. Canada builds upon a culture of collaboration and while we are a large nation we have the ability to bring decision makers and policy influencers in to one room to reach agreements. Perhaps one of the most key advantages of Canadian solutions is that our values demand solutions that respect an individual’s privacy with regard to personal information sharing and use. This key value also makes Canada an incredibly strategic partner to European Union member states. Canadian solutions and innovation consistently stand toe-to-toe with partners small and large. Our orders of government and our private sector industries know that Digital ID and Authentication (DIA) are not only technical solutions, they are imperative enablers to ensure our collective prosperity. These are just some of the reasons why Canada is a leader in the DIA landscape and why international businesses and governments are reaching out to DIACC to connect Canadian driven innovation to the world.

Q: DIACC most recently released its second proof of concept, on Online Proof of Residency. What are some of the major benefits of being able to prove residency online?

A: Governments everywhere are struggling to provide more services to more people in a time of declining resources.  One concern is to ensure that only the people entitled to services (e.g. citizens of a particular province or country) receive those services.  People are still forced to take time away from their interests so they can show up in person at service counters to conduct very inadequate ID proofing ceremonies (e.g. a copy of a utility bill with your name and address on it).  Worse practice involves sending faxed or scanned copies of such documents over the internet.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if citizens could provide those proofs in a truly authoritative, privacy respectful, trustworthy way online?  The proof of concept explored the feasibility and potential for having solutions for this that involved an ecosystem of actors.

Q: Many governments still don’t see authentication as essential when engaging online. Why do you think this practice hasn’t been fully established within governments at all levels?

A: It’s interesting how government leaders clearly understand the vital role governments have in serving as foundational authorities for a wide range of identity related information for people, businesses, organizations, and for a huge array of critically important registrations and certifications – everything from birth certificates, death certificates, corporate registrations, land-title registrations, professional designations like being a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher… and on it would go.  At the same time, an increasing number of government leaders understand the importance of the digital economy and for innovation.

People easily understand that the digital economy depends on good network – broadband and wireless internet – and governments are very active in ensuring this.  However not enough government leaders are connecting the dots to see the vital importance of having a good digital ID infrastructure and the critical role that governments have in that equation. I think there is a fundamental lack of understanding about authentication, authorization, and Digital Identity.  It’s a topic that is laced with complicated technical jargon and not very many leaders want to take the time to understand why they need to work on the digital ID part.  We were lucky in BC that we had leaders who were willing to use our Ministry of Health’s interests in revitalizing our Health Services Care Card as an opportunity to create a Digital ID service and a general purpose Services Card that would suit Health, but also be usable by other services.

Q: How do you see private companies such as PlaceSpeak fitting into the Digital Identity ecosystem?

A: PlaceSpeak is an interesting idea that shows how a variety of parties and actors can be orchestrated to improve digital identity information and the types of service opportunities that open up once you have better digital identity information to work with.  It’s clear that they have thought carefully about important principles for user-control and for privacy.

The DIACC is founded on the idea of the need for collaboration and innovation amongst public, private, commercial, and non-commercial interests.  It’s the idea that no single actor or sector of our economy can solve the challenge by themselves.  Through participation in the DIACC we see opportunities for folks like PlaceSpeak to be innovators both as providers of solutions for pieces of the digital ID ecosystem puzzle and as well, we see opportunity for them to improve their own offerings by consuming services of other actors, whether they be public or private sector based, that come into the ecosystem.

Know someone who we should feature? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @PlaceSpeak.

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