We’ve all done it – emailed a photo of our ID documents to who knows where to confirm our identity. Confirming our identity securely and safely in the digital age is a complex and fraught task the average person doesn’t fully understand, so they do what’s quick and easy, and get on with their day. If you’ve become aware of the risks of sending sensitive information online, you’re in good company.
Enter Commissionaires, a Canada-wide not-for-profit security organization that has been operating since 1925. For more than 15 years, it has managed what has become the largest digital fingerprinting infrastructure in Canada with 50+ offices from coast to coast. Not only does Commissionaires process 150,000 certified criminal record checks per year (which includes fingerprint captures), but it also offers criminal record name checks through an online portal and a full suite of background screening services (credit, education, employment history, references, social media checks, and more).
With many veterans and former RCMP officers employed by Commissionaires, they know a thing or two about information security risks and how to mitigate them — especially when it comes to fingerprinting and background checks.
As Commissionaires continues to focus on making enhancements to its fingerprinting and background screening systems and processes, the organization recently kick-started a $1.5 million IT modernization project. While this plan was in the works well before the pandemic, Commissionaires views the unprecedented surge in online activity since 2020 as validation for the need to have faster, more accessible and more mobile-friendly services, without compromising security, privacy, regulatory compliance, and accuracy.
“Many of our clients have asked for a seamless offering where either we manage their entire process, or they manage their own process through a one-stop portal,” said Cheryl Fifer, chief operations officer at Commissionaires Ottawa. “Over the past two years, we’ve embarked on a modernization of our platform that differentiates our service offerings in the market by being responsive to the customer experience they want, but also responsive to their concerns about privacy and security.”
The challenges of background checks
With so many types of screening checks requiring different forms and following different processes, screening people can be a complicated and onerous task for everyone involved. Part of the Commissionaires modernization process was finding a way to streamline the system – a solution they found in Ottawa-based Bluink.
“We landed on this technical gem quite by accident,” said Fifer. “Turns out Bluink was doing many of the same things we were doing in the E-identity space.”
Steve Borza is CEO and president of Bluink, a tech company that specializes in applying biometric solutions to identity, cyber security, and encryption problems.
Bluink’s smartphone based “eID-Me” app allows customers to be verified, then gives them a secure digital “wallet” to store digital versions of their ID, like a driver’s license, passport, and health cards.
“Our process uses machine learning to look at your documents and compare your ID to a selfie you take,” said Borza.
It’s a simple description that’s packed with many critical features you’ll find in eID-Me: user consent, one-to-one verification, a decentralized identity, and the ability to own and control your personal information rather than sending it offshore into an online abyss. The machine-learning component eliminates the need for a person — who might sell your information — to physically inspect your documents and do the verification. And the process is practically instantaneous.
By integrating Bluink’s technology into Commissionaires’ new platform, the team is creating a game-changing solution for clients.
“When you look at how 90 per cent of IDs are transmitted, it’s clear there’s a significant lack of awareness in the marketplace,” said Borza. “Someone scans their passport or their driver’s licence, attaches it to an email, and flips it to somebody. It’s quite concerning, but it’s the norm. The potential for identity theft is enormous.”
Borza believes it’s up to companies like Bluink and Commissionaires to educate the marketplace about these risks.
A faster, safer future
If you’re getting the sense that Commissionaires and its tech-partner Bluink are very passionate about what they do, you’d be correct. Together, the pair hope to alleviate the drawbacks of the traditional background check system, an issue that was on full display throughout the pandemic.
“The whole thing was so ridiculous,” said Borza, reflecting back on the backlog of healthcare workers who couldn’t start work during the pandemic because they needed a background check. “It wasn’t just impacting a single person — it was impacting our healthcare system’s ability to function. And we had the technology that could solve it.”
“Combining Commissionaires’ one-stop portal with Bluink’s eID-technology creates a safe, secure, and seamless solution,” said Fifer.
Borza agrees. “We both offer a service in the same space,” he said. “This partnership combines the best of what we both can bring to the table.”
Consumers concerned about the security and privacy of their personal information should be glad that Bluink and Commissionaires found themselves “in two different lanes swimming to the same location” as Fifer says, instead of two ships passing in the night.