Sask. Government Stops Pursuit of Potential Digital ID

Saskatchewan is pausing the process to bring a new digital ID into the province after saying it’s heard concerns from residents.

Instead of proceeding with a plan to possibly introduce a program in 2023, officials will “very closely” watch the rollout of digital IDs in provinces like Alberta and Ontario to see how they progress.

“We just thought we’ve got an opportunity here to review what other governments are doing with this, and so we decided not to proceed right now,”

said Jim Reiter, the minister responsible for SaskBuilds, in an interview Thursday.

An emailed statement sent on behalf of the Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement said the costs to develop the initiative, intended to make accessing services easier, would have been significant.

Reiter said the cost would have been in the millions. He didn’t provide an exact figure because of “proprietor issues.”

“It’s not cheap,” Reiter said. It’s significant money that you’re going to want to watch the taxpayers’ dollars on.”

Reiter said he heard concerns from people about potentially implementing digital ID, even though he previously stated the province wanted to make it easier to access government services.

One of the main concerns has been privacy. From its inception, Reiter had said it would not be mandatory.

“There was enough people raising concerns that obviously you have to make that a factor, but it certainly wasn’t the only one,” he said.

In a search that started in October 2021, the province was considering vendors to potentially initiate digital ID, meant to replace the need for physical ID cards. According to RFP documents, the selected vendor would have worked with SGI for facial verification, but final details on accessing the photo database weren’t finalized.

The concept requires users to log-in with a cellphone or laptop camera. The service would check for “liveliness” through facial recognition software to prove someone’s identity.

People would be able to register for services conveniently, according to the government, rather than having to go to an office in-person or wait for a mailed-in PIN.

While the province has stopped its pursuit for now, Reiter said it’s possible Saskatchewan may look into digital ID in the future.

He did not provide a timeline on when the province may look at it again.

“It won’t be in the in the very near future,” he said. “We’re just putting it to bed for now.”

A government-commissioned poll conducted by Insightrix found 53 per cent of 802 respondents were somewhat supportive of the concept of digital ID and establishing a framework. Twenty-one per cent reported they were very supportive.

Forty-two per cent said they were somewhat comfortable with photo ID verification, and 25 per cent said they were extremely comfortable.