Volume 94, Issue 64

Wednesday, January 17, 2001


Threat of gun violence rocks King's

Quebec attacks brain drain - New tax cuts target high-tech profs

USC motion could change VP voting

Smart cards on hold - Privacy issue raises questions

RRU gets a military discharge - BC university goes from military to civilian


Planet Me

Smart cards on hold - Privacy issue raises questions

By Wes Brown
Gazette Staff

Privacy concerns and technology issues have forced the Ontario government to back away from using genetic information on its new multi-use identification cards.

The multi-purpose card, labelled the 'smart card', is the provincial government's high-tech answer to combine Ontario drivers' licenses, health cards, birth certificates and other IDs issued to allow access to other governmental services, said Alexandra Gillespie, press secretary to Management Board chairman Chris Hodgson.

"The privacy aspect of the card was the number one concern about the new card and what the best method would be in implementing this new technology," Gillespie said.

Jason Bilodeau, policy advisor for the province's information and technology board, said the use of genetic information, or biometric technology, is young and there are many questions surrounding it.

Bilodeau explained biometrics uses tags like retinal scans or fingerprints with the smart card to code Ontario residents' information with the card. He said while the government is putting biometrics on hold, the decision is not final.

"There is a cost inhibition, both social and monetary, involved with biometrics – something the government does not want to take responsibility for this early in the game," he said.

"There is currently a feasibility study underway looking into ideas, and could be revisited depending on the results of the report," he said, adding legislation for the new cards is still being anticipated by spring-time, with the introduction of the cards by next winter.

Gillespie said the province's privacy commission has been working with the provincial Management Board from the beginning to provide advice. "They've been a very important player in its inception."

Brian Beamish, director of policy at the Ontario Information and Privacy Commission, said since the province has not solved some of the privacy issues with biometrics, the cards are still a major issue.

"Incorporating something like biometrics on something like provincial health cards, which are rolled out to all Ontario citizens, would create a database of all the people in the province and how they interact with government services," he said.

Beamish said the potential for misuse of the information would be too great. He said while the government will still be using smart cards, the design will make sure they will not be used to track citizens.

Bob Nichols, spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, said the Ministry has had no input into the development of the smart cards as they concern provincial licenses.

"Whatever the government decides to do is what the Ministry will accept. We do not have any real say in the design – that's up to the Management Board," he said.

To Contact The News Department:

Copyright The Gazette 2000