Drivers in Ontario won’t have to reach over to their glove compartment for their insurance papers anymore — they can access them on their smartphones instead.
It’s a move that’s being billed by the government as putting the needs of drivers first, but some experts are urging caution. They say it brings up issues of privacy and potential discrimination.
Lauren Reid, the president of boutique consulting firm The Privacy Pro, told Global News that the new optional provision means Ontarians may be handing their unlocked phones over to law enforcement.
“Everything in our lives are on our phones now,” she said.
While the Ontario government has a requirement for insurance companies to provide an option for slips to be presentable on a locked screen, it’s not the default option, Reid explained.
“It’s up to the insurance provider to explain to people how to enable that,” Reid said, noting that some Ontarians may not realize it’s an option, or understand how it works.
In theory, police officers are only supposed to look at that slip and then return the phone. But Reid said there have been cases of law enforcement overstepping similar boundaries.
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“When you look at people crossing borders, for example, we’ve seen examples of people searching phones and not allowing entry.”
Even if pink slips are available on locked screens, Reid said privacy is not a guarantee. She evaluated several insurance companies that offer electronic slips and said their privacy policies required customers to consent to third-party tracking and advertising.
“You can’t get this card without agreeing to have your data used and sold for third-party advertising and many of them require location services to be turned on,” Reid said, noting that the majority of customers are unlikely to read or understand these terms.
Electronic proof of insurance was one of a number of ways the government signalled in its spring budget that it was going to reform auto insurance.
While making the announcement for the new option last week, Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the electronic slips will have several safety features, such as safeguards to stop them from being altered or edited.
However, he also added that drivers will be responsible for making sure their phone can display the proof of insurance, even with a poor signal, drained battery or damaged screen.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, told Global News that handing over unlocked phones could potentially result in increased policing faced by racialized minorities.
“We know that members of certain racialized communities face increased police suspicion and are surveilled at higher levels,” he said. “This could provide another opportunity for the police to increasingly surveil.”
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However, Owusu-Bempah noted that the electronic slip may be a convenient option for some. For example, it eliminates the delay of having to wait for paper slips to come in the mail, or printing them.
He added that the electronic slip is optional, so those who are unsure about or uncomfortable with the prospect can continue carry on with the paper document.
“No one is being forced to hand over an unlocked phone.”
Even with the concerns, the Insurance Bureau of Canada noted that electronic insurance cards are something Canadians have been asking about.
Kim Donaldson, vice-president of the organization’s Ontario division, said the move makes insurance “easier and more accessible.”
“Being able to provide digital documents to today’s tech-savvy consumer is a baseline expectation of service we are thrilled to now be able to provide,” she said in a news release.
Drivers in Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador can already display their proof of insurance electronically.
— With files from The Canadian Press