The B.C. government last week announced a fast-tracked consultation process for the new BC Services Card and the government’s digital services strategy. The consultation will centre on a panel of randomly selected British Columbians, who will have until Christmas to hand in a report. Public input on the process must be submitted by August 22nd.
However FIPA, along with the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) are concerned that the proposed consultation needs major changes in order to make it meaningful. In a letter (available here) we highlighted a number of impediments to the incorporation of public input.
The biggest issue is that the panel is specifically denied the ability to recommend the Card program be stopped, even if it finds that is the best course of action. Secondly, British Columbians not selected for the panel will only be able to give their input electronically, in response to government-written scenarios. In essence, the public is not able to effectively participate in this so-called consultation, but rather can only choose from a set of government-sanctioned responses.
The BC Services Card is a key part of the BC government’s broader “e-government” strategy– a comprehensive identity management system meant to facilitate online access to government services and the integration of databases that contain citizen’s personal information. The government launched the cards in mid-February, but Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham insisted the government conduct a “fulsome” consultation before the next phase of implementation.
British Columbians need to be heard on this issue, and they should be able to express themselves as they see fit. That’s how the government gets the best advice from citizens – not by restricting what a citizen panel is allowed to conclude.
The fact the government won’t let the consultation recommend putting a stop to the program speaks volumes about how worried they are. If they genuinely want British Columbians to have a say, they would leave all options open.
The public only has until August 22nd to submit comments on how the consultation will operate. If you are concerned about the BC ID Card, take a look at the comments we submitted, and make sure your voice is heard by emailing your thoughts to CitizenEngagement@gov.bc.ca by August 22.