British Columbians will take a leap into the digital future when their new B.C. Services Cards become available next month, but the leap could leave the province’s privacy commissioner behind.
Starting on Feb. 15, British Columbians will have to re-enrol in the Medical Services Plan and get either a new B.C. Services Card or a combined services card and driver’s licence. The new cards will have chips and magnetic strips, as well as, in most cases, a photo of the holder. Unlike the old CareCards, they will have to be renewed every five years.
The cards offer many advantages, including easy access to a patient’s health records, anti-forging measures and security that were lacking in the 20-year-old CareCards.
The $150-million project is also designed to reduce health-care fraud. B.C. has twice as many CareCards as residents, a figure the government touts as evidence of the potential for fraud, although in a province with a lot of transient people, it’s unlikely that many of those extra cards are signs of fraudsters at work. The province estimates it loses $260 million a year to health-care fraud; it doesn’t know how much of that comes from people using CareCards that aren’t theirs.
All the security features are good for British Columbians. The part that concerns many people, however, is what comes next.
The cards will eventually allow British Columbians to connect to all kinds of government services by passing the card over a sensor and logging onto a computer. That will require linking files from several ministries. File-linking opens the potential for accidental or intentional abuse. It also gives the government the means of watching every aspect of our lives more efficiently.
Faced with such a complex project, information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham started a mandatory privacy and security assessment. She made it clear last year that she expects the government to hold off until she has completed her review.
Last week, her office said: “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.”
It’s clear that her privacy assessment isn’t finished.
The government, with what has become its customary disdain for independent officers of the legislature, is forging ahead anyway. With the rollout just a month away, it seems impossible for Denham to finish her review, the government to digest it and the architects to make any changes before Feb. 15.
The government has already delayed the start of the project once, and is clearly eager to get it up and running.
Nevertheless, it should put on the brakes. This is a project with huge implications for the privacy of British Columbians, who were not consulted on any of it.
If Denham finds major areas of concern, a lot of time and money could go into setting things right. It’s only prudent for the government to avoid wasting money.
Unless, as it appears now, the Liberals plan to ignore the commissioner’s recommendations regardless of what they are.
© Copyright 2013