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B.C. paves way for all-in-one identity card

Jan 28 2012

The B.C. government is moving forward with plans for high-tech identity cards that will one day let people access a host of provincial services on the Internet.

The province intends to sign a $20-million, six-year deal with Toronto-based SecureKey to provide card reader technology, the government says. It's the latest in a series of new laws and contracts that pave the way for expanded government Internet services.

The cards may one day be used to access government websites for electronic health records, prescription histories, age verification, driver's licence details, electronic voting and school registration for children. Currently, you have to visit a government office in person and show appropriate ID to access such services.

Health Minister Mike de Jong announced last May the government was developing new CareCards, with improved security features, to combat the millions of dollars lost to health insurance fraud.

Those cards should be available in November, and will roll out over the next five years. They'll be free and mandatory for all British Columbians, requiring millions of people to re-enrol into the healthcare system. The project is expected to cost the government about $150 million.

People will also have the option of combining their new CareCard and driver's licence into one B.C. Services Card.

The new government cards will have embedded security chips, similar to certain credit cards that allow customers to wirelessly make purchases by touching or waving their credit card in front of a terminal.

The government's contract with SecureKey will develop B.C. card readers - key-sized devices that plug into a computer's USB port. People tap their new CareCard or Services Card onto the SecureKey reader and enter a PIN number on a government website, to authenticate their identity.

There won't be any online government services available when the cards launch in November. The province has proposed a rollout of features from different ministries over the next five years.

B.C. said it will directly award SecureKey a contract because the company already holds a contract with the federal government and the province wants its system to be compatible with Canada's service.

NDP critic Doug Routley said the Liberal government has a dismal track record on protecting privacy and should have asked for other bids. "I know some pretty good roofers, but I'd still get three quotes on a roof," he said. "It'd still be prudent to put this out there for competition."

There remains many privacy questions about the direction the government is headed, said Vince Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. He said the government rushed through legislation last fall that allows for crossministry sharing of personal information needed by the new cards.

The government said it is consulting with the independent privacy commission on the technology.

Identity cards won't store any information inside their chips, and the SecureKey readers simply create a secure path and network to approve a person's ID and re-direct them back to government information, officials said Friday.

The cards can be remotely cancelled if lost, and will only access the minimum amount of personal information required for a service - for example, a birth date to prove an age or a health number for prescriptions.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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