Privacy groups demand halt to BC ID Card roll-out

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) are calling for the BC government to put the brakes on the roll out of the BC Services Card.

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. Last month, the government announced that the new cards would be launched beginning in mid-February, even though the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner had not finished reviewing the program.

In a statement released today, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham pointed to a number of shortcomings with the plan, and called for a halt to any further expansion of the Services Card without extensive public consultations on the risks and benefits of data linkage. And while they agree with the pause, the BCCLA and FIPA say that it will take more than a public consultation to fix what’s really broken in the government’s plan.

“This government has got to come clean on the card before we are all forced to use it,” said Micheal Vonn, BCCLA Policy Director. “British Columbians have been provided almost no real information about it, and the Commissioner herself says she was only given an ‘abbreviated time for review’ of the program.”

The BC government has a terrible track record when it comes to developing data systems. Just last month the Auditor General blasted the Ministry of Justice’s JUSTIN case management system for poor information security and inadequate measures to “ensure that only appropriate users accessed sensitive information.” Other recent IT flops include the Integrated Case Management system, which the Representative for Children and Youth called a “colossal failure,” and the BCeSIS student data system, which must now be completely replaced at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

See FIPA’s past updates for more information on these issues.

“The government’s performance on these projects is appalling on almost every level,” said Vincent Gogolek, FIPA’s Executive Director. “We need a public inquiry to get to the bottom of this pattern of privacy invasive, security weak and costly IT adventures, certainly before the latest one is launched.”

Report finds B.C. Government’s $182 million Integrated Case Management system plagued with “fundamental deficiencies”

The B.C. Ministry of Child and Family Development has issued an interim report by a consultant hired to review the problem-plagued Integrated Case Management System, and the results are damning.

The report outlines a laundry list of weaknesses in the system, which is meant to streamline government service provision by linking and sharing citizen data across government departments. From “unclear lines of accountability across the end-to-end project life cycle,” to insufficient implementation resources and a “paucity of IT experience” among project workers, the report finds fault on nearly every front.

“The scope and range of the problems detailed in the report is staggering,” said Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA). “It shows that from the ground up–from procurement to governance to training and finally to implementation–this is a flawed initiative.”

The findings confirm many of the concerns that civil society groups have been raising since the ICM was first proposed. “Our position has always been that a project of this scale, that absorbs so much sensitive personal information and shares it so widely across discrete arms of government, cannot reliably serve the people of British Columbia while protecting their personal information,” said Gogolek.

“This is why we have been calling for a public inquiry into this system since the summer,” he added. “This thing was botched right from the beginning, and this report only deals with the implementation by MCFD. There are three more phases to come.”

The review of the ICM system was promised by the B.C. Government after B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, released a statement last July, slamming the system as “problem-plagued’ and declaring “I strongly believe that ICM is not adequate to provide safety to vulnerable children, youth and families in B.C.”

In response this report, Turpel-Lafond has renewed her criticism, telling the Times Colonist that the ICM is a “colossal failure.” “We’re in deep trouble,” she said.

The ICM debacle also raises serious concerns over other government IT and identity management projects like the new B.C. Services Card, set to launch in mid-February. “If we’re seeing this level of mismanagement with the ICM, not to mention other government IT programs like JUSTIN and BCeSIS, it’s a pretty safe bet we will see more of the same with the new ID cards. It’s time for a public inquiry into data linkage systems across government before more money is wasted and personal information is compromised.”

For FIPA’s 2010 report on Integrated Case Management, “Culture of Care or Culture of Surveillance?” click here.

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.

More intervention needed to end illegal license plate surveillance

In a report released last week, B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham took a stiff shot at the use of Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology by the Victoria Police Department. Valuable as Denham’s efforts are, however, it will likely take more than her work alone to bring this ever-expanding surveillance system back in line with privacy law.

The ALPR system, after all, was developed by and remains in the control of the RCMP. Victoria and other police departments use the system under an agreement with the Mounties. The system uses cameras and computers to log about 500 license plates per unit per day, then checks the recorded plate numbers against various lists for things like stolen cars, unlicensed or uninsured drivers, and other types of wrongdoing.

If a scanned plate matches any of the entries on these lists, it registers in the system as a “hit” and is stored on an encrypted flash drive. At the end of the day, the local officer turns that drive over to the RCMP. The problem is that flash drive also includes all the other plates that were scanned during the shift. This is called “non-hit” data and includes such things as the location of a vehicle at the time of scanning.

The RCMP says it deletes the “non-hit” information within 30 minutes of getting the drives back, and Victoria PD says it is not able to delete the data directly. But in recent months, the Mounties have indicated that they want to keep that data for a much longer period of time, claiming that it might be useful for some other purpose in the future.

In her report, Denham pointed out a number of problems with this system of collection, and raised serious concerns about how it works to move us even closer to a surveillance society.

“In recent media reports, law enforcement agencies have openly discussed the possibility of retaining non-hit data,” she wrote.

“In my view, the use and disclosure of this information for unspecified purposes would not be justifiable under FIPPA [Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act]. Collecting personal information for law enforcement purposes does not extend to retaining information on the suspicionless activities of citizens just in case it may be useful in the future.”

Although she says the use of the ALPR system to collect information specifically and clearly connected to law enforcement efforts can be justified under this province’s privacy law, “non-hit” data is not related to law enforcement in any sense, and so its collection can’t be justified under FIPPA.

But even the hits are questionable, since the ALPR system doesn’t just flag things like stolen cars or uninsured motorists. It also includes as hit data anything that falls into the broad category of “other pointer.” This is an exhaustive list and includes everything from people out on parole to those who have threatened or attempted suicide. Denham questioned the relevance of this kind of data to law enforcement efforts, and wisely argued that this category should be cut back considerably to include only what the police actually need.

Finally, she said the system should be reconfigured so that all of the information not related to law enforcement would be deleted immediately, rather than sending all of it to the RCMP.

As Denham points out, though, the RCMP is not under her jurisdiction, so she can’t bring them into line. But the RCMP simply shouldn’t be running a surveillance system on people who haven’t broken any law, and they shouldn’t be able to take advantage of the federal-provincial jurisdictional split to do so either.

This means Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart is going to have to school the Mounties on what privacy rights really mean, and why setting up a massive “just in case” database is not only a bad idea, it’s against the law.

Originally published by The Huffington Post British Columbia