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If my insurance information is on my phone, will I still be required to have a paper copy with me? If not, will I get a ticket if I’m pulled over and there’s no signal, my battery is dead or I left my phone at home? – Tima, Ottawa

If you use your phone to prove that you’re insured on the road in Ontario, you won’t be forced to keep a paper trail.

But, since you could face a $50 fine in Ontario if you can’t show a pink slip, carrying a paper copy might still be a good idea, just in case.

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“Consumers have the option of keeping an electronic insurance card on their mobile device instead of, or in addition to, a paper version,” Marc Pichette, a spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of Finance, said in an e-mail. “It is still the law to have proof of auto insurance in the vehicle at all times, whether in paper or electronic format.”

This month, Ontario joined Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in allowing insurance companies to offer electronic proof of insurance – which is sometimes called an e-card or an electronic pink slip – for drivers who don’t want to keep a paper pink slip in their glove compartments.

In Quebec, where the laws don’t specify that proof must be on paper, insurance companies are planning to offer e-cards, the province’s Ministry of Public Safety said in an e-mail.

All the provinces let you choose between an e-card and a paper version. You can also choose to keep both in your car.

In fact, in Ontario, there’s a one-year phase-in period where, if you choose an e-card, you’ll automatically also get a paper version. That’s so insurance companies can iron out the bugs in their apps.

In the United States, e-cards are legal in all 50 states and Washington D.C., and none of them requires a paper backup, said Alex Hageli with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“There were some legislators who proposed that in the early days, but we pushed back as that would defeat the whole purpose of an e-card,” Hageli said. “Of course, if you want paper, your insurer is required to provide it to you.”

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Slips not sliding away

In Ontario, there are no plans to phase out paper slips. But, whether you have a paper slip or an e-card, you need to keep it with you. That’s because police officers can’t use their computers to check whether you have insurance.

“They can call an insurance company, if they choose, during business hours to confirm insurance on vehicles,” said Sergeant Carolle Dionne, Ontario Provincial Police spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Some companies allow you to save your e-card to your phone’s wallet, so it’s there even if you don’t have a signal – as long as your phone is charged and with you.

But, there’s potentially more to worry about than just technical difficulties.

In Ontario, there’s nothing in the new rules that bans police officers from looking through your unlocked phone while looking at your e-card.

While the rules will require insurance companies to make sure you can lock your phone before showing your card, it’s up to you to actually enable the screen lock, Pichette said.

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Instead, there needs to be clear rules that ban officers from going through your phone, says Brenda McPhail, director of the privacy, technology and surveillance project with the Civil Liberties Association of Canada.

“Other jurisdictions do have rules around what the police can and can’t do,” McPhail says. “We need a clause that says that presentation of proof of insurance on a phone does not allow consent to other information.”

And, even if your phone is locked, there are still potential risks to your privacy when handing your phone to police, McPhail says.

For instance, what happens if you get a text notification while a cop is looking at your e-card?

“It could [be] something embarrassing like, ‘Honey, come home, I want to snuggle’" McPhail says. “But it could be, ‘We just killed the big boss!’ That’s a congratulatory moment for a video-game player, but it might raise the eyebrows of an officer of the law.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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