A legal advocacy group says the federal government's proposed Digital Identity Program is prone to being used to access private information and increase control over people, drawing comparisons to Beijing's social credit system.
But the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms warns in a recent report that Canadians could be trading off their charter-protected rights and freedoms, drawing a parallel between the use of digital identity technologies in Canada and China, which the group said "are uncomfortably close."
"Digital ID also equips governments to violate the rights and freedoms which Canadians have enjoyed for centuries, treating these, instead, as privileges to be earned by 'correct' behaviour. ... At the end of this road lies the 'Social Credit System' of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which uses its system of total surveillance to monitor, punish, and reward its citizens."
Social Credit SystemChina's social credit system, which launched its first national pilot program in 2014 and was implemented in major cities in March 2018, has been the subject of warnings from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), according to the Justice Centre.
"Data can be collected on companies and individuals abroad, posing a challenge for countries not wishing to be part of a Chinese system of social control. China’s big data strategy may improve political control without improving the actual quality of governance."
Warnings for CanadaThe Justice Centre said the Liberal government's past actions raise concerns that it is willing to increase surveillance and overreach and "abuse Charter rights and freedoms," particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Canadians, therefore, have already experienced a taste of the CPC-style Social Credit System," the centre said in its report. "Across Canada, as governments and corporations continue to collect, centralize, and share private information about the physical and financial attributes and behaviours of Canadians, alarm bells should be ringing."
"Canadians are urged to inform themselves and their political leaders of the dangers posed by digital ID technologies."
The Justice Centre report concluded that no government should be trusted with digital ID technologies.
"The question for Canadians ... is not whether this federal government can be trusted with digital ID. It is whether any government, federal or provincial, can resist the temptation to ignore Charter rights to free speech, conscience, worship, association, peaceful assembly, travel, privacy, or security of the person, when those holding power perceive that some advantage will arise by ignoring these," the report said.
"The short answer is 'no.' As Canada’s introduction of digital ID, digital currency and recent cases of government abuse of power echo similar developments in China, alarm bells should be going off all over the country. Canadians have good cause to fear that they, too, will end up living under a system not unlike the Social Credit System."