Digital identity verification could present big opportunities for Ontario — but big risks, too

It’s vital that the province use strong identity verification if the process moves online, says one Ontario CEO

Digital identity verification could present big opportunities for Ontario — but big risks, too
Greg Wolfond

A proposed overhaul of Ontario’s justice system could set the province on track toward digital identity verification, the attorney general has hinted. 

Bill 161 would include changes to the Notaries Act to “allow for remote or virtual commissioning and notarization online.” Although the change would only happen “once appropriate data and privacy safeguards are put into place by regulation,” Attorney General Doug Downey indicated in a December interview with Law Times that he was interested in hearing feedback from the legal profession and examining what other jurisdictions are doing for “paving the way for online document verification and signing” in real estate and wills. 

When Downey announced the proposed changes to the Notaries Act, he cited David Clement, North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center, who said it “makes the system more consumer friendly and more responsive.” Lena Koke, CEO and co-Founder of Axess Law, is also quoted by the office of the attorney general.

"This bill is a breakthrough needed to modernize Ontario's legal system. Permitting online verification of an individual's identity and legal documents will level the legal services playing field for all Ontarians,” she said in the press release. “No matter where a person lives, when they work, or what mobility or ability challenges they may face, they will soon be able to access the same high-quality legal services that are easily accessible in urban centres across Ontario."

Downey’s announcement comes as companies like Oakville’s FCT — a title insurer and real estate services provider — team up with Toronto-based SecureKey Technologies for identity verification. SecureKey is best known for Verified.Me, which cross-checks traditional IDs, such as drivers’ licenses, with other secure services like banking records, without revealing any of the information to the third party.

The result, says SecureKey CEO Greg Wolfond, is more secure than simply checking a single form of ID. He says that the bar set by Verified.Me is appropriately high, given the importance and speed needed for big deals like mortgage transactions.

“I could do identity validation just by scanning a driver's license and digital verification of the driver's license. And I think that's going to move us towards digital, faster, for sure. But it's going to move us to fraud much, much faster. It's not hard for someone to make a fake copy of a piece of plastic that is in their wallet,” he says.

“So how do we find a way to keep our consumer safer, where they can go places to share who they are and be trusted, but also make it harder for the bad guy to impersonate our customers? . . . . The existing system, I would say, is broken.” 

Wolfond notes that real estate scammers, in particular, are known to try and dupe lawyers, making it vital that the province use strong identity verification if the process moves online.  About 27.8 per cent of LawPro claims in 2018 were real-estate related, second only to litigation claims in volume.

“The problem with the old way of doing things is, number one, it puts a lot of burden on society. It takes a lot of time. It's expensive, and it's slow. And at the same time, susceptible to fraud,” he says. “And law firms today are already dealing with that . .  . . that's costing lawyers and law firms and trusts, and it's costing them real dollars.” 

Wolfond says Notarius is another type of service that’s been adopted by some legal groups, including the Law Society of Alberta and Chambre des huissiers de justice du Québec. The company claims to “ensure the legal reliability of an electronic document and confirm the identity and professional status of the signatory at the time of signing.” 

Either way, says Wolfond, multi-factor authentication of some sort is key.

“This is a really good idea, and we should do it,” he says of online verification. “My concern is, we have to do it right.” 

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