Interview with Joni Brennan (President of the Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada – DIACC)

Why should a member of the government care about digital identity? The Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) has identified at least $15 billion (CAD) of potential benefits for the Canadian economy in result of improvements in the digital identity infrastructure. 

A “conservative estimate” considering $300 billion CAD worth of transactions are done on Canada’s payment network. That’s according to Joni Brennan, President of the DIACC, and whose career has been focused on Identity and Access Management innovation and digital identity standards development.

The problem is that “digital identity was not built for the digital economy” (1). It currently costs organisations $236 per user to solve password reset related issues. Users spend up to 600 hours recovering from identity theft and a company whose data is breached incurs in losses of 5.68 million dollars.

Joni believes solving the problems of digital identity requires a “paradigm shift that no single organisation can achieve alone” (2). Governments and industries have to work together.

According to Joni, the solution has to:

– be economically focused;

– designed with the user’s needs at the centre 

– deliver efficiencies in governments and businesses; 

– reduce fraud;

– increase trust for the consumers and citizens that use it.

To her, that’s what a successful digital identity solution will look like.

In Canada, the idea of one single digital identity is not acceptable. Legal identity stems from 14 different places in the country. Identity is rooted to each of the different provinces where a citizen is born. For immigrants and refugees, legal identity is rooted in the Federal Government. However, the Federal Government is not the central authority for identity in Canada. All the different provinces feed identity into it. This involves and requires a lot of different digital relationships between individuals, individuals and organisations, organisations and organisations and all the devices they interact with.

What the DIACC is working on is a framework of industry standards and practices to enable “interoperable networks that will have verifiable data requesters ask for particular attributes to be verified and attribute verifiers to provide that verification” (3)

Canadian companies claim they waste more than $10 billion every year on unnecessary bureaucracy (4). Each Canadian business owner has to use three different tax numbers and navigate three different levels of governmental bureaucracy: local, provincial and federal.

This interoperable framework – The Pan-Canadian Trust Framework – could enable citizens to start businesses and not deal with so much bureaucracy and have trustworthy transactions online. 

As an example, one trusted organisation in the value chain (such as the Provincial Government) could issue a digital verifiable credential to the business owner, and the other organisation (such as the federal government or a financial institution) can verify that credential and trust the attestation made by the first organisation.

“Governments create data about us that we should be able to use in the economy and in the ecosystem. Just the same as banks and telcos also create and manage data about us. We need to have access to that data and we need to get it into an ecosystem that we can use securely, simply and with privacy by design (…) This is not only login. This is a new data strategy for Canada.” (5)

We had the chance to ask Joni a few questions:

What are your responsibilities and goals as President of the Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada?

As President of the DIACC, I work alongside our inspiring members and Board of Directors – leaders from the public and private sectors in Canada, which include banks, as well as government and provincial representatives. I maintain a keen awareness of what is happening in the space within Canada as well as abroad, and participate in various international events (which there are no shortage of)! 

At the DIACC, our goal is to deliver a framework for Canada that supports our vision of an identity ecosystem that: is inclusive and interoperable across the country, supports Canada’s full and beneficial participation in the global Digital Economy, and provides Canadians with choice, control, and convenience. 

While DIACC benefits from a diverse and engaged group of contributors at the table, we are seeking to harness innovation and leadership across the country and around the world to position Canada as a world-class leader on digital identity. 

What needs to be true to “establish a digital identity ecosystem that accelerates the digital economy, grows Canada’s GDP and benefits all Canadians”?

It is crucial to prioritize privacy, security, user-centred design, and convenience of use. This is the approach that DIACC members take, and this shared approach guides us forward. 

While the implementation of solutions may vary, it’s crucial that a unified approach to digital identity interoperability is taken. We firmly believe that collaboration is key. If the public and private sectors do not work together and have diverse industry stakeholders involved, systems will be developed in silos, which may not benefit all parties and may actually exclude some parties from accessing benefits. 

What is the biggest myth or misconception about Digital Identity?

I think the biggest myth is that identity is only about the individual. Yes, the individual should be at the centre of every approach, yet the entire economy is impacted – as identity is key to delivering services for financial services, small and medium enterprises, and government. Identity must not only verify people, but also organizations. And of course, this verification must be done with an individual’s consent. People, businesses, and governments – all have the opportunity to benefit from identity solutions and services interoperability. 

In the field of Digital Identity, what is the question that people should be asking more but aren’t?

How can I get involved? 

People may think that solving for digital identity is solely the work of their governments and business leaders, but I encourage everyone to educate themselves, be curious, and contribute to the discussion. Successes and failures to accelerate secure, private, and convenient digital identity impacts the whole of our society. 

At DIACC, we’re passionate about working in the open, and that’s why our collaborative work to deliver the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework is open and available for anyone to comment and contribute. The Pan-Canadian Trust Framework drafts can be located here

Please get involved and share your perspectives to advance a framework for identity that will work for everyone. 

Specific roadblocks other people in this space should look out for?

Lack of education and awareness are challenges. Successfully convincing someone of the merits of digital ID is a challenge, and in order to get others on board, the education piece is critical. 

Other roadblocks include: a lack of action or a clear strategy, and digital identity solutions that benefit some, but not all.  

Finally, it’s important to have an open dialogue regarding classifications and types of data.  Canadians need to know what data exists about them and businesses and governments need rules and tools to guide access and verification of that data – with the consent, choice, and control of individuals. While we are working to solve digital identity challenges, it’s important to consider the ability to verify data as necessary for various kinds of transactions. 

If you had the chance to write something on all the boards in all the classrooms in the world, what would it be?

Stay curious and engaged! Learning is a lifelong process and the path to changing the world by advancing identity that works for – and respects – everyone is often a marathon and not a sprint. 

What are the next steps for the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework? And how is the DIAAC accelerating “interoperability by securing adoption of the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework”?

The components of the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework (PCTF) undergo various review cycles, soliciting input from those from the public and private sectors, as well as international experts, liaisons and the general public. After each review cycle ends and comments are collected, our community editing team incorporates all comments, and each draft’s content clarified and refined. 

The PCTF unlocks public and private sector identity capabilities, by harnessing the power and expertise that comes from both sectors. By taking an open and transparent approach, the DIACC is ensuring that all voices are accounted for. 

As for next steps for the framework, various initiatives are underway for the first half of 2020, including a glossary of key terminology, as well as an assessment and infrastructure component.  

Our members and collaborators are working hard to deliver the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework minimum viable product 1.0 this year! 

What are your hopes for the future of Digital Identity?

I would like to see greater collaboration between governments and the private sector to look at identity through the lenses of prosperity and economic growth. A true test of the value of the PCTF will be its broad adoption, and we believe that the best way to ensure PCTF adoption is to work with a diverse community of collaborators ensure that the PCTF is developed and maintained to represent stakeholder needs. On the economic front, we believe that, with public and private sector collaboration, the potential value of trusted digital identity to the Canadian economy is at least 1% of GDP, or CAD 15 billion. That growth could in fact be much higher when realized across the whole of the economy. 

What are the books you have recommended most to others?

Much of my identity practice related reading comes from peer organizations or from DIACC members in the form of research and white papers. There are simply too many to list here. 

Regarding non-identity specific reading, I’ve been reading and listening to audio books including:

  • – Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • – Digital Minimization by Cal Newport
  • – Harvard Business Review – On Managing People
  • – Harvard Business Review – On Managing Yourself
  • – The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
  • – And… the manual for my MOOG synthesizer which is quite a complex and enjoyable stress relieving machine

We, at Tykn, would like to thank Joni Brennan for her time and for sharing her ideas and knowledge with us. Thank you, Joni! Be sure to follow her on Twitter.

Tykn is a digital identity company. We just launched Ana, a digital identity management platform that allows organisations to issue tamper-proof digital credentials which are verifiable anywhere, at any time.

If you’re keen on reading more we suggest you check out our Blog. There are interviews with Daniel Hardman, Elizabeth M. Renieris, Kim Hamilton Duffy and many more. There’s also our Definitive Guide to Identity Management with Blockchain and the Ultimate Beginners Guide to Self-Sovereign Identity.