British Columbia is introducing a high-tech identification card for everyone from infants to the elderly to replace the old CareCard health system, and add driver's licences and other government services.
The government says the idea fixes an antiquated system, but privacy critics have their doubts.
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said Monday the BC Services Card will be required by every B.C. resident to obtain medical services, helping clear up what she says is the currently outdated health CareCard system that has issued nine million cards for 4.4 million British Columbians since 1989.
The five-year project has a budget of $150-million and will start next month.
But B.C. privacy advocates voiced concerns about the government's plan to protect personal information with a card that links itself to vast amounts of data.
"My office is reviewing the BC Services Card," said a statement issued by Elizabeth Denham, B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner.
"It is critical that in developing this program, that the sensitive personal information of British Columbians is protected," said the statement.
Ms. Denham's statement said her office is evaluating the system's security issues and its design, but is still awaiting relevant information from the government.
Vincent Gogolek, the executive director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said the Liberal government does not have a stellar track record when it comes to introducing high-tech programs.
Last July, former children's minister Mary McNeil conceded the government's $182-million Integrated Case Management program to improve information flow in the child-welfare system needed repair after a report from the Independent Representative for Children and Youth concluded the database was deeply flawed and put children at risk.
"Is it as secure as the Integrated Case Management system?" said Mr. Gogolek. "That's the last thing they did where they had massive data-sharing, and that blew up as soon as they introduced it."
Mr. Gogolek also suggested governments should be wary of plans to link databases. He said the British government announced in May, 2010, it was scrapping $7-billion in government databases, including an identity card system, to reverse what was called an encroachment on civil liberties.
Ms. MacDiarmid said the government will do its utmost to ensure privacy and security are protected.
"We are going to take every measure to make sure [it won't] be compromised," she said. "One of the things that is very important for people to know is the card itself doesn't contain, for example, your health record or your driving record or anything else. So, if somebody picks up your card, that information isn't stored in the card."
Ms. MacDiarmid said the card contains a chip that once activated can only be accessed through a code known only by the card holder.
The new cards include a photograph and expire every five years, she said.
The card can double as a driver's licence, but users have the opportunity to request a separate driver's licence, Ms. MacDiarmid said.
She said most residents will get their new BC Service Cards when they renew their driver's licences, while non-drivers and children will also enrol at locations where driver's licences are issued.
Ms. MacDiarmid said the government is looking to link the card with other government services, which allows card owners to access records and conduct government business online.
CareCards were first introduced in 1989 and have been criticized as fraud-prone, outdated technology.