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BC Services Card may become omnibus-style ID

The B.C. Services Card could become the omnibus identity card that B.C. Civil Liberties Association warned about at a 2013 conference.

Andrew Wilkinson, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services, released reports yesterday on the public consultation for the year-old combined health card/drivers' licence. He indicated the government wants to follow the advice of a citizens' panel that recommended expanding the combined high-tech health card/drivers' licence.

Launched in February 2013, Wilkinson there were one-million cards in circulation by February 2014. The card contains no personal information on its embedded contactless chip, but the government says it is secure from counterfeiting. Not until August of last year, six months after the card was released for public use, did the government begin consultation.

Rollout of the card appears to be slower than what the government wanted. A Nov. 27, 2013 expert report, which was released on April 1, said just shy of 700,000 cards had been issued by last fall: 130,000 non-photo, 250,000 combo cards, and 350,000 standalone cards.

"Given the push they have on at ICBC counters to take the combo cards, it is a serious rejection of the cards where a strong majority of people, even after being repeatedly encouraged to combine their cards refuse to do so," said Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. "If the government follows the panel recommendations and gets rid of the mandatory aspect, suspect the uptake would fall even further."

A user panel of 35 randomly selected citizens endorsed expanding the card for booking and managing medical appointments, online access to health records, student loan applications, vital statistics applications, drivers' licence replacements, online voter registration and in-person authentication and criminal records checks.

The panel recommended enabling personal monitoring and control of data, expanding digital access to services gradually, increasing the convenience of transacting information with government, preserving anonymous services, and avoid using the Services Card for payments, transportation-related services, and non-governmental uses.

An April 2013 report commissioned by BCCLA said government had not published a business case for the program, which was expected to cost $150 million over five years. The government announced a direct award of a $20-million, six-year contract to SecureKey Technologies in January 2012 for credential and authentication services. BCCLA said the B.C. Services Card was the first step toward a national identity card.

"By implementing the e-Health and identity management system without significant public involvement, the government is establishing necessary 'fail conditions' that could preclude the initiative from being perceived as a democratically legitimate program," said the report, by Blog G Privacy and Security Consultants.

Wilkinson told attendees of a forum that was part of the consultation that health care fraud was a primary impetus for the card, because there were more of the old CareCards in circulation than there are British Columbians.

Wilkinson discussed the possibility that users could link B.C. Services Cards to their bank cards to "replace most of the cards in your wallet." But, the report said, he emphasized expanded services would be optional and "government can't be a nanny."

The report said an unnamed delegate asked Wilkinson if services that are voluntary would eventually become mandatory.

"In response, Wilkinson noted that it wouldn't be in government's best interest to force services on the B.C. population, a place where people 'expect their rights and autonomy to be respected.'"

Wilkinson told another delegate that the government's goal was to have three million cards in circulation over the next four years.

"By that time, I'm hoping people will be clamouring and enthusiastic to get their cards," said Wilkinson, who was, coincidentally, BCCLA's president from 1993 to 1995.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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