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
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.
Anti-fraud capabilities are touted as a major component of the proposed BC Services Card. While the government is almost certainly overstating the issue of fraud, the political rhetoric around fraud doesn’t inherently mean that proposed anti-fraud mechanisms will be similarly overstated. Indeed, many of the Services Card’s suggested changes could be helpful in limiting the issuance of fraudulent identity documents; adding a card holder’s photo, an expiry date, and anti-counterfeiting technologies to new medical CareCards could be quite helpful in ascertaining, and addressing, fraud levels. Unfortunately, the biometric systems that will also be linked to the Services Cards are unlikely to significantly defray fraud.
In this post I continue my analysis of the BC Services Card, this time with a focus on the cards’ integration with biometric analysis technologies. I begin by giving a primer on the origins of biometric analysis for identity documents in BC, and then move to outline how the government asserts that the biometric analyses should work. I then explain why adopting biometric identifiers matters: why don’t they tend to work? what is at stake in their inclusion? I conclude by (re)suggesting some entirely reasonable security processes that might defray fraud without needing the cards’ proposed biometric properties.
Last week members of the BC government engaged in a media blitz to promote the proposed BC Services Card. As part of the blitz, BC’s Health Minister gave an interview to CBC’s All Points West to explain some of the proposed Services Card’s features. As a key Minister involved in the Services Card she understandably has been an outspoken advocate for the new initiative. Previously, BC’s Health Ministers have stridently argued that the Services Card would defray fraud, though this rhetoric has since been toned down: now the cards will remedy unknown levels of fraud, save unknown amounts of money, and facilitate undetermined kinds of data migration across government.
In what follows, I analyze the Minister’s interview with CBC to identify the confused and problematic nature of the Services Card, as it is being presented to the public. I start by noting an area where I think most residents likely support the government – some basic updates to the present CareCards – and then proceed to deficiencies in how the Minister is introducing the new Cards. I conclude by focusing on the frankly bizarre methods that the provincial government is using to ‘sell’ the card to the public and ask whether these cards could be a significant election issue later this year.
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.