Ottawa's Digital Identity Program Could Lead to Beijing-Style Social Credit System, Legal Advocacy Group Says

Ottawa's Digital Identity Program Could Lead to Beijing-Style Social Credit System, Legal Advocacy Group Says
A person uses a cellphone in Ottawa on July 18, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Andrew Chen

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.

Details of the program were revealed in a report titled Canada’s Digital Ambition 2022, published on the federal government website on Aug. 4. The report cites Canadians' increased reliance on digital platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic and notes that the government established the digital ID program to deliver its services through "modernized and accessible tools."

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."

"The convenience of digital ID is far outweighed by its potential cost: Canadian governments now have the ability to access detailed, personal, confidential, and real-time information about Canadians’ personal affairs," says the report, titled Canada's Road to Beijing.

"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."

The Digital Identity Program is the annual, forward-looking three-year strategic plan of Canada's Chief Information Officer (CIO). The Epoch Times reached out to the CIO for comment but didn't hear back by publication time.

Social Credit System

China'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.
"Big data is allowing the Party [Chinese Communist Party] to extend its already extensive control over the lives of Chinese citizens. The developing social credit system will make possible comprehensive data collection to measure individual loyalty to the state," states a 2018 CSIS report.

"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."

Those with a bad social credit in China have reportedly been denied access to public facilities and services. Just two months after its implementation in 2018, the system had blocked 11 million flights and 4 million train trips, reported Business Insider.
With Canada's Digital ID Program report giving the nod to several provinces that are also moving forward with plans for a digital identity, Justice Centre president John Carpay warns that the policy, once implemented, could also lead to rapid changes in Canadian society.
“What Canadians need today is not more unmitigated government access to private information but, instead, a renewed commitment to Charter rights and freedoms. We are on the road to Beijing, and Canadians should be apprehensive,” Carpay said in a news release.
“Things are moving fast, and Canadians should be very concerned that a free and democratic society is quickly headed towards a society where citizens can be cancelled by the government with the flick of a switch.”

Warnings for Canada

The 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.
The centre criticized the federal government for tracking and freezing the bank accounts of supporters of the truckers' Freedom Convoy protest. The protest, held for over three weeks in Ottawa's downtown core starting late January, called for an end to the COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions. On Feb. 14, the government invoked the Emergencies Act, giving financial institutions special powers to freeze the bank accounts of those involved in the movement without court oversight to protect privacy or private property.
The Justice Centre also points to reports showing the federal government testing facial recognition technologies on millions of travellers at the Toronto Pearson Airport in 2016, and authorized data collection from 33 million mobile devices during 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."

Rachel Emmanuel contributed to this report.