11/06/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 01/05/2013 05:12 EST

Service Ontario Kiosks Nixed By Ontario Government

CP File

TORONTO - Critics are slamming the government's decision to permanently shut down all ServiceOntario kiosks, five months after concerns were raised that the machines were being targeted by criminals to steal credit and debit card information.

It shows the governing Liberals can't be trusted with delivering and overseeing even the most basic government services, the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats said Tuesday.

The machines, which provided access to 40 different services, were shut down in June after "financial partners" alerted the government of potential debit and credit card skimming at kiosks in the Toronto area, the governing Liberals said.

The intruders tried to access credit and debit cards and personal identification numbers by rigging false card swipe devices at the kiosks, said a ministry spokesman. It would cost about $6.3 million to install new technology in all the kiosks, which were first introduced in 1996.

But closing down the machines permanently will inconvenience many customers who use them to access services quickly — such as address changes and renewing licence plate stickers — rather than wait in line, opposition critics said.

Conservative Rod Jackson said he's received dozens of calls from his constituents in Barrie, asking why the kiosks are on their way out.

"This is a service provided to people that they use and it has been a very good one," he said.

"Why they can't keep them secure is their problem, but certainly it should have been an easy one to fix. And instead of fixing it, they did what they always do and cut bait and ran."

The Liberals have "dropped the ball," said New Democrat Jagmeet Singh.

"I think first and foremost the issue is that, how could we trust a government to run the province, if they can't properly run a kiosk?" he said. "That's a big question."

Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar said there's no indication that any personal information was compromised.

But even if the government spent millions of dollars on security improvements, the kiosks would still be vulnerable to high-tech crime, he said.

"This was not a political decision or a financially motivated decision, it was more to do with safety and security," Takhar said.

There are two slots in the kiosks: one where customers insert their debit and credit cards, and another where they put personal information, he said.

The government worked with IBM, which supplied the machines and software, to fix the problem, he said. But they couldn't guarantee a security breach wouldn't happen again.

"They said that even if they fix the credit card information, people could still go after the personal information," Takhar said. "So we did not really want to take that chance at all."

The move will save $2.2 million in annual maintenance costs, according to the government.

Jackson said he'd like to know how much it cost to shut down and remove the kiosks.

"I don't buy that it's a money-saving issue," he said.

"There's a difference between spending and getting results, and spending and not getting results."

But neither the Tories nor the NDP can ask questions about the decision because the Liberals have also shut down the legislature, they said.

According to the ministry, it will cost $252,000 to take the kiosks out of service.

Customers can go online to access services securely or visit one of nearly 300 ServiceOntario centres in the province, Takhar said.

However, there are plans to close four of its counters in Chatham, Newmarket, Oshawa and Toronto to cut costs.

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