Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Tag: identity card

Smart Chip, Simple Illusions: NFC and the BC Services Card

This is a guest post from my colleague, Adam Molnar, who has been conducting research on the BC Services Card. Adam is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria and a member of the New Transparency Project. His dissertation research focuses on security and policing legacies associated with mega-events. You can find him on Twitter at @admmo

Image by Pierre Metivier

In just two weeks, the province of British Columbia will be launching the new BC Services Card. If you haven’t already heard about the new province-wide identity management initiative, it’s not your fault; the government only began its public relations campaign for the Services Card initiative six weeks before the card was set to hit wallets and hospitals across the province. In fact, the government’s been so unforthcoming about the new Cards that, just six weeks before it’s release, the British Columbia Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is racing to adequately review the program. To be clear: this isn’t a new initiative, but one going back several years. The unwillingness to disclose the documents necessary for the Commissioner’s review is particularly troubling since the Services Card is just one component in a much larger transformation of the province’s movement to its integrated identity management program. Will similar tardiness to assist the province’s privacy czar pervade this entire transition? Will the public be as excluded from future debates as they have from the Services Card development and deployment regime?

The Services Cards feature a host of security enhancements, including layered polycarbonate plastics, embedded holography, laser etchings for images and text appearing on the card, and the integration of a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip. For this post, I focus exclusively on the NFC chip, that is meant to ‘secure’ your identity when presenting the card to government agencies, either in person or online.

The BC government has been touting NFC as an enhanced security feature in the Services Card initiative. While this technical feature might enhance the perception of privacy (especially when buttressed by official provincial political rhetoric), they actually entail serious flaws. These flaws could leave the personal information of BC residents and government databases vulnerable to attack; the security ‘features’ could be the beachhead that leads to serious privacy breaches.

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Checking the Numbers Behind BC CareCard Fraud

Image by ivers

On January 7, 2013, the British Columbia government (re)announced that the province’s new identity card, the BC Services Card, would be arriving on February 15, 2013. To date, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia has not released her analysis of the Services Card. To date, the provincial government has been particularly recalcitrant in releasing any information about the cards short of press releases. Though members of civil society are concerned about the card it remains unclear whether they can mobilize to effectively delay or stop the card: indeed, this lack of capacity is something that is explicitly recognized in government documents that were released by ICBC.

This will be the first of a few posts on the proposed Services Card. In aggregate, the posts will examine pragmatic (e.g. fraud, security, biometric privacy) and principled (access to information problems, lack of democratic discussion surrounding the cards, secret usage of citizens’ data, function creep) criticisms of the Services Card. This particular post examines the government’s misleading claims surrounding CareCard fraud. Specifically, I interrogate the government’s assertion that there are many more CareCards in circulation than there are residents and statements that fraud presently costs the province $260 million/year or more. I conclude by stating that the government ought to clearly tell citizens what is driving the cards, given that the primary driver is almost certainly not medical fraud.

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