Identity Renewal

I lost my drivers license this week.  No, not from being reckless orspeeding — I lost the physical plastic credential that various authorities use to confirm that I can drive a car, open a bank account or have an adult beverage.

So, here in Alberta, when you lose this rather important identity credential you can turn to our very convenient registry office system to get it replaced.  Some years ago, our government privatized the customer service for all provincial registry services.  Today, there are over 220 locations around the province where you can get counter services for things like vehicle registrations, marriage licenses and so on.

There is a registry office across the street from where I work, and I paid them a visit yesterday afternoon:

Me: I have lost my drivers license.

Registry Agent: Oh. That’s too bad.  Maybe you should slow down or something…

Me:  No!  I lost the plasticized thingy.  Can I get another?

RA: Yes, of course!  Do you have a piece of picture ID?

Me: (handing over my oh-so-precious Canadian passport) Here you go. 

RA: Thank you.

At this point the registry agent glances at the passport picture, glances at me – yup, that’s him – and notes the passport number on an official form.

RA: Has any of your information changed? Hair – brown; eyes – hazel; height – 5′ 11″?

Me: Uh, no.

A few more particulars are exchanged.  Then the agent asks the shared secret question! (Only I could get excited about such a question!  And, at this point, I am positively bristling with excitement!)

RA: What is your home phone number?

What is my phone number?  My jaw drops.  I stop bristling.  Really, is that the best she could do?  I was hoping for some other nugget from the government’s mighty store of personal information.  How about the high school I attended?  Perhaps my health care number? Or my third child’s middle name?  PHONE NUMBER??? C’mon people, give me a challenge here.

Me: (mutters phone number)

RA: Hey, that’s just one number off of my phone number!

Me: Oh.

And that was about it.  I signed a few forms, she pecked a few keys and off the bits flew to the Canadian Bank Note company, the outsourced operation in Ottawa that prints and mails Alberta provincial drivers licenses.  I was given a temporary license until my new plastic-coated beauty arrived.

How does my experience compare with the government’s defined process?  It is based on ‘who you are, what you have and what you know.’  To confirm who I am, the agent uses their computer system to retrieve a picture of me from my last renewal.  So, they have a way of confirming I am who I say I am.  That’s good.

However, a few comments from this experience:

  • The agent forgot to ask me for secondary identification that further identified me and/or proved that I still live in Alberta.  I could have moved to BC or Zambia and the government process prescribes a way to catch this and confirm that I’m still a tax-paying Albertan.  An additional ‘what you have’, beyond my passport, would have strengthened the identity assurance.
  • The ‘what you know’ secret used in this case, my phone number, isn’t secret at all… I use it as my frequent shopper ID at Safeways, and blurt it out regularly in all kinds of situations.  Oh, and it is in the phone book, right next to my name…  I know that this was likely just a secret (among several possibilities) that the registry agent chose off the screen, but perhaps there should be less choice in the process to ensure stronger secrets are used.

There, in a nut-shell, are a few issues with the license replacement — an identity credential renewal –process.  But are these significant enough to be of concern?

Mike

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