Joni Brennan on the Growing Public Demand for Digital Identity During the Pandemic
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Joni Brennan on the Growing Public Demand for Digital Identity During the Pandemic

Raj Hegde
Published on Sep 06, 2021

Joni Brennan, President of the Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada is to deliver a presentation entitled COVID Has Accelerated Public Demand for Digital ID on Monday, September 13 starting at 19:40 pm at EIC 2021.

To give you sneak preview of what to expect, we asked Joni some questions about her planned presentation.

In what ways has the pandemic impacted digital identity ecosystems?

The pandemic has absolutely impacted digital ID ecosystems. It's done so in a number of ways, it's driven demand for people to start working from home, who hadn't before in the past, it's driven more need for convenient use of services that have more higher risk profiles, such as banking or needing to transact with governments. And absolutely from an enterprise perspective, when we have people's patterns changing, we have workforces that are now working from home. It's driven the need for more and more security while maintaining that quality workforce being engaged in the ecosystem. Of course, if we look at the pandemic and the terms of proving particular attributes, like have you received a vaccine or not, or is your COVID 19 tests negative or not? If we think about those concepts, what's really important, important about them is that they are in fact bound to a digital identity, a COVID test or a, or a vaccine proof doesn't necessarily matter, unless we know that you are the person that is attached to that particular attribute.

So COVID-19 pandemic has driven all of these demands forward with a more urgent and a much higher level to where in the past, when we talked about digital ID, sometimes we talked about it as more of a convenience so that we could transact easily from anywhere now it's about life needs, ensuring that food can stay on the table, that people can stay employed, that the economy can keep moving forward, while not leaving anyone behind. So ensuring that we have social inclusion and its social equity in these systems as we move forward in the pandemic.

When it comes to digital ID, there is always a tradeoff between security and usability. What should vendors, or anyone building identity platforms, focus on?

So when we talk around digital ID, we often hear that there are trade offs between security and usability or between security and privacy, for example,I really think we should challenge vendors to try to look at the ecosystem more as a positive sum approach. And so how can we build security and usability? How can we build in security and privacy? I think there's a challenge first of all, to really look at this ecosystem as additive, versus, you know, having to have one or the other, in terms of usability, we have to have usability. These systems have to be easy for people to use and in a lot of cases, we're just not there yet. And so we may find that the most easy to use solution will win the day, but it will be very low or much lower in terms of security or privacy and personal data protection.

So the identity and access management, industry practitioners and vendors and ecosystem at large, is really challenged to try to bring each of these forward and security and privacy security and usability, and that takes commitment and investment user testing. We certainly are making it further down in terms of progress to get to systems that are, have all of these features. So I think we should try to ensure that we have the easiest system that we can use, a lot of education around these systems, while not lowering or degrading the privacy protection the personal data control and the security protection. That is the foundation of the challenges that we're trying to solve with digital identity.

Could you deep dive on the biggest security challenges when it comes to digital ID?

Some of the biggest security challenges regarding digital ID. I would say really do rely on the fact that the system that we are working with has flaws from a digital ID perspective that are built into it. And so we know that the internet was not built with an identity layer. And so some of the challenges in this space are, shall we build a new internet that now has an identity layer, or shall we build an identity layer, that can hook into the existing systems? And I would say we really whenever we see the idea of, should we do one thing or another thing we should challenge ourselves to try to do both of those things and try to bridge those things together. And so we don't have an identity layer in the current internet. There is work being done to build that those capabilities and those solutions, and they do exist in different solutions and in different ecosystems today.

There are other communities who are trying to, if you will rebuild the internet from the ground up. And so both of these piles should be encouraged. And the challenges sometimes are brought about by fracture in terms of marketplace fracture, in terms of developers and vendors, as well as relying parties and clients trying to determine which direction they should invest in. And so I would really encourage and, and, and, and try to push our communities that when we see this kind of fracture happening for one approach or another approach, we should really challenge ourselves to build bridges between these approaches.

We should really focus on globally interoperable standards that are being built in often in associations of industry practitioners, who have the experience and the know-how, and are trying to build things such as, for example, a common data model, like the W3C work for a common data model for verifiable credentials would be one example. Where we see, I think fracture is one of the largest challenges, particularly for investors for the, for the, the marketplace. And we as a community should be working to address that fracture while promoting choice of solution and approach. And, and one of the ways you do that is by working with industry standards that are global, and are, and are built by industry expert practitioners.

Could you give us a sneak peek into your keynote at EIC?

I'd love to give you a sneak peek into my keynote for this year's European Identity and Cloud Conference. As the president of the digital ID and authentication council of Canada, I will be discussing some of the main work that we do, which is the Pan-Canadian trust framework, a technology agnostic framework of rules and tools so that different solutions can exist in one ecosystem, with a baseline of requirements, providing people and clients with a choice about how and which systems they'd like to use.

We've done some year over year research regarding digital identity. And so we see where perspectives have changed and where they've stayed the same, with regard to personal data sharing convenience versus security, usability versus security, what are, what are people really demanding, when it comes to digital identity and how in fact COVID, and the different realities of living in COVID in a world of social distancing and less travel and working from home, which populations have been most affected, and where are they from which actors and from which stakeholders are they looking for their solutions to come from?

And who are they trusting, for management and access to personal data? So it's great demographic research that intersects, some of the realities around market awareness and understanding, or on digital identity itself, and how the COVID-19 pandemic and everything that comes with it has intersected if people's perspectives and their demand. And the short story is, COVID-19 has driven, more demand for digital identity and we'll get into some of the details, and the demographics, and around what people are thinking.

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