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.