February 10, 2003
Mr. Joe Fontana, M.P.
Chair, Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
180 Wellington Street
House of Commons
Dear Mr. Fontana,
RE: Proposal for a National ID card
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed national identity card system for Canada. In my view, such a card is completely unwarranted and will not achieve the principal goal of preventing terrorism or increasing public safety and security.
In order to consider any possible introduction of a Canada-wide ID card system, a strong business and policy case must be made for it. One must demonstrate that it is not only necessary and effective, but that it also fits within the general constitutional nature of Canada and the accepted conventions of our civil society. As you know, the Supreme Court of Canada has held privacy to be “at the very heart of liberty in a modern state”i and to be “a crucial element of individual freedom, which requires the state to respect the dignity, autonomy and integrity of the individual.”ii A national ID card, as currently envisioned, would meet none of these criteria.
I have three primary concerns relating to a national ID card system:
1. The requirement, scope and proposed use for an ID card system;
2. The enrollment requirements of the ID card system;
3. The effectiveness, or lack thereof, of a national ID card.
1) The requirement, scope and proposed use of the ID card:
The discussion of a national ID card has, to date, been lacking in any specific details as to its purpose and scope. As a result, the need for a national ID card system has yet to be justifiably demonstrated. While there are several possible uses one could propose for an ID card, Canada already has a number of tools in place that effectively address these issues. For example:
- Financial Rating and Fraud Prevention: money laundering legislation, consumer reporting legislation, credit reporting schemes and several credit card anti-fraud systems already exist.
- Border Protection: Canada already has a high-security passport system, a new, enhanced Maple Leaf Card for permanent immigrants, as well as police, CSIS and CCRA criminal data systems.
- Provision of Government Services: access is provided through use of identification schemes such as the federal Social Insurance Number, and provincial card and licence systems relating to health, motor vehicle drivers, hunting and fishing and other similar programs.
- Identity Authentication: each province has a system for providing birth certificates and similar documentation – several of which, including Ontario’s, have been recently reviewed and improved.
Not only would a national ID card be redundant for many of its stated purposes, it could also potentially act as a privacy-eroding tool. The card would likely be supported by a national ID database or linked database registration system. The creation of a national database containing information on all Canadians would be unprecedented and far-reaching. The opportunity for government surveillance and tracking of lawful activities would be significantly expanded.
Undoubtedly, the introduction of a national ID card would be accompanied by government commitments that the use of the card would be strictly limited to specific, identified purposes. However, similar assurances in the past have proven less than robust. The “function creep” associated with Canada's Social Insurance Number is an example of how the use of one form of identification has expanded over time far beyond its original, narrow purpose. The more recent example of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s passenger database also demonstrates that commitments made can easily be broken.
2) The enrollment requirements of the ID card system
The concept of a mandatory card system raises troubling privacy issues. A fundamental question yet to be answered is who would be required to register for the ID card and whether the production of the ID card, when requested by various authorities, would be a voluntary or mandatory obligation. Informational privacy revolves around the right of an individual to exercise choice and reasonable control over the collection, use and disclosure of his or her personal information. Obliging citizens to carry this card would significantly limit the control an individual has over the uses of his or her personal information, and the degree to which it may be disclosed to others.
However, in more general terms, requiring citizens to carry government-issued identification, and compelling them to produce it upon request, strikes at fundamental principles of Canadian society.
Canadians have always had the right to engage in lawful, everyday activities without concern of having to carry identity papers with them, or justify their actions. A mandatory identification system would quickly erode that right.
It should be noted that even a voluntary card can negatively impact privacy if it is not truly voluntary. For example, if it is required to obtain essential services, it cannot be characterized as being voluntary. The experience in France illustrates this concern. Although their national ID card is said to be “voluntary,” 90% of the population need to carry one because it is necessary to access services for health, education, banks and the post office.
Further, such a national ID card system provides a powerful mechanism to facilitate discriminatory or abusive actions if misused. This concern was noted by former Supreme Court Justice La Forest in his opinion to Canada's Federal Privacy Commissioner concerning the sweeping passenger database proposed by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.
3) The effectiveness of a national ID card
It is important that government continually evaluate and assess the effectiveness of current public safety and security measures. Although new security initiatives may have implications for individual privacy, these implications may be within acceptable limits if the initiatives can be shown to be truly effective in promoting public safety. This case has not been made for a national ID card. To date, the government has provided little evidence that the creation of a national ID card would minimize terrorist activity. It is highly unlikely that potential terrorists would follow the rules and obtain such a card. A far more likely scenario is that motivated individuals would obtain identify cards under false pretences or use other mechanisms so as to limit the efficacy of the ID card. Forging documents to obtain false identities is a commonplace practice of those who wish to evade the law.
In summary, I am pleased that the Standing Committee is discussing this important issue. Significant public safety initiatives such as the one proposed by the Minister of Immigration should not be entered into lightly or without substantial discussion and evaluation. To date, I have yet to see a convincing case for the creation of a national ID card system, nor its alleged effectiveness. Until such a case is made, it would not be advisable to proceed with the proposed initiative, for the implications of doing so would have considerable ramifications for all Canadians for years to come.
Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D.
||The Hon. Denis Coderre, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration |
||Mr. George Radwanski, Privacy Commissioner of Canada|
||Mr. Bill Farrell, Clerk of the Committee|