08/26/2013 06:54 EDT | Updated 10/26/2013 05:12 EDT

A BC Service Card Offer We Can't Refuse?

The provincial government is finally going to consult with British Columbians about its controversial ID card program, but it doesn't seem open to hearing criticism about it.

The new ID card, known as the BC Services Card, began rolling out earlier this year. At present, it combines both drivers licence and provincial health care card. However, if the government has its way, the card will be used not just for access to government services, but also for credit card and as transit passes. That's a lot of access to personal information.

After taking a look at the card program, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she wanted the government to conduct "fulsome" consultations before proceeding with its implementation.

The format that the government announced, just before the B.C. Day long weekend, shows just how little scope for comment British Columbians are going to have if the process isn't changed.

The consultation will focus on a panel of randomly-selected British Columbians, who will have until Christmas to hand in a report. Public input on the process was required to be submitted last week.

However the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), along with the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) are concerned that the proposed consultation needs major changes. In a letter to Minister Andrew Wilkinson (available here) we highlighted a number of impediments to the incorporation of public input.

The biggest issue is that the panel is specifically denied the ability to recommend the card program be stopped, even if it finds that to be the best course of action. Secondly, British Columbians not selected for the panel will only be able to give their input electronically in response to government-written scenarios. In essence, the public is not able to effectively participate in this so-called consultation, but rather can only choose from a set of government-sanctioned responses.

British Columbians need to be heard on this issue and they should be able to express themselves as they see fit. That's how the government gets the best advice from citizens -- not by restricting what a citizen panel is allowed to conclude.

The fact the government won't let the consultation recommend putting a stop to the program speaks volumes about how worried they are. Given the hundreds of millions of dollars the government has spent on IT projects that failed miserably -- including BCeSIS, Integrated Case Management -- they have real reason to be concerned about what citizens think of their latest project.

Of course, an open consultation would only showcase what people think about the issue, the Minister and the government have the final word on whether we keep spending on money on it or if it gets put on blocks. However, it would be much less difficult for them to push the program through if the consultation was prevented from telling them the people don't want what they are offering.