B.C. government charges ahead with ID card, despite major privacy and transparency concerns

On Monday, the B.C. Government launched a province-wide communications blitz to announce the February 15th launch date of its long-delayed B.C. Services Card.

The new card, which will be rolled out to British Columbians over the next five years, is set to replace the aging CareCard system, currently used to track and deliver health care across the province. It will combine the functions of your old CareCard with your B.C. driver’s license, all in the name of cutting down on health care billing fraud and providing you with what the government likes to call “citizen-centred services.”

FIPA has repeatedly raised questions over just why the new card is needed, what it does to protect citizen data from inappropriate use, and how it will link disparate government databases together, creating a potential goldmine for hackers. But despite the government’s new push to unveil the card, these questions are a long way from answered.

In fact, we still don’t have answers as to why the Integrated Case Management system, another major component of the government’s data linking plans, blew up so spectacularly last year. The government said it had hired consultants to review what went wrong, but no report has come of that plan yet–or at least not a public one. Nor have we heard from the Information and Privacy Commissioner about the various ICM privacy breaches.

Following yesterday’s announcement, B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham circulated a statement indicating that her office had not finished reviewing the Services Card program, and was still waiting for information from the government:

My office is reviewing the B.C. Services Card. It is critical that in developing this program, that the sensitive personal information of British Columbians is protected.

Among other things, we are carefully evaluating the security issues associated with the proposal as well as the system architecture. In this regard, we are still awaiting information from the relevant ministries and government agencies.

When complete, I will be issuing a full public statement about the outcome of my review.

Apparently the new ID card program is so important, it could not wait for the Commissioner’s input.

This is not the first time at the provincial government has tried to jam things past the Commissioner’s office. Last spring the government hammered four bills through the legislature, each of which was publicly criticized by Denham’s office for serious access and privacy problems.

FIPA has been trying unsuccessfully to get information on the card program for almost two years. We are working with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who have received funding from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to conduct research into the Services Card. Visit the study’s website today for more information and resources.

After the catastrophic failure of earlier datalinkage megaprojects like Integrated Case Management and BCeSis, it would seem reasonable, even for a government intent on proceeding down this road, to wait and find out what went wrong before spending more money on yet another personal information grab. But that is not what is happening in B.C. today.

The government must put a stop to this waste of taxpayers’ money and stop endangering citizens’ personal information.