The Provincial Government of BC commissioned a 36-member User Panel to provide recommendations on the new chip-enabled Services Card and digital services plan. The Panel's recommendations were accepted and integrated into a set of long-term principles and short-term actions.
Problems and Purpose
The British Colombia Services Card is a security-enhanced photo ID that replaced the aging CareCard and combining it into a single card with a driver’s license. Like many new credit cards, the BC ID is a ‘chip card’ — meaning it is embedded with an encrypted chip that can connect to secure and inexpensive chip card readers, offering B.C. residents a new, more secure method to verify identity and gain access to government services.
Digitally authenticated access to government services raises important questions concerning privacy, the security of personal information, and the nature of people’s interactions with government. For this reason, and on the advice of the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner, the B.C. government undertook a broad public consultation on the future uses of the Services Card. The resulting Digital Service Consultation informed government policies concerning future uses of the card.
Background History and Context
The British Colombia Services Card is a security-enhanced photo ID developed by three provincial government organizations — the Ministry of Technology, Innovation, and Citizens' Services (MTIC), the Ministry of Health, and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). It replaces the aging CareCard, can be combined into a single card with a driver’s license, and, like many new credit cards, is a ‘chip card’ — meaning it is embedded with an encrypted chip that can connect to secure and inexpensive chip card readers. Card readers can be set up at government service counters and also connected to a personal computer at home.
This chip and the digital identity management system open the possibility of reliable and secure online access to more government services. The fear of unauthorized access to the personal information of residents has prevented many government departments from offering more online services, but because chip cards are nearly impossible to counterfeit, can be tapped against a card reader that is attached to a computer, and can be combined with a simple passcode that only the authorized user knows, the Services Card offers B.C. residents a new, more secure method to verify identity and gain access to government services.
Over the first nine months of the program, nearly seven hundred thousand B.C. residents were issued Services Cards. The cards are currently used as in-person ID, like the CareCards and Driver’s Licenses they replace. The chip function has yet to be ‘turned on’, but the necessary IT infrastructure is nearly finalized and government ministries have begun to develop plans concerning how best to use this new capability.
Originating Entities and Funding
The B.C. Services Card User Panel is the lead initiative of the Digital Services Consultation, initiated by the Provincial Government of BC. It was complemented by a Specialist Forum — hosted by IdentityNorth— which gathered the perspectives of industry leaders, stakeholders and academics, and by an online survey that sought input from the wider public. MASS LBP was commissioned to recruit participants using a Civic Lottery and run the user panel following its signature Citizens' Reference Panel methodology.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The 35 members of the B.C. Services Card User Panel were selected by civic lottery.
A total of 16,500 invitations were sent to randomly selected residences across the province in early October 2013. Each region received a number of invitations roughly proportionate to its population. The invitations were transferable to anyone over the age of 18 living in that residence.
In the letter, the Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, invited recipients to volunteer 40 hours over two weekends to meet, learn, discuss, and ultimately propose recommendations regarding future uses for the B.C. Services Card.
More than 725 people responded to the invitation, either volunteering to be part of the panel or sending their regrets but requesting to be kept informed about the process. Elected municipal, provincial, and federal representatives, as well as employees of the Province of British Columbia, were ineligible to apply. From the pool of 393 eligible volunteers, 35 Panelists were randomly selected in a blind draw that balanced three criteria: the selection guaranteed gender parity, matched the age profile of B.C., and broadly reflected the geographic distribution of the province’s population. A minimum of one seat was held for an Aboriginal resident and another for a person with a disability.
The candidates' ethnicity, income, educational attainment or other attributes were not factored into the selection process. These attributes typically emerge proportionate to the general population during the lottery. In short, the panel was composed in such a way as to deliver good demographic diversity and to ensure that it was broadly representative of the residents of British Columbia.
Methods and Tools Used
The B.C. Services Card User Panel used the same methodology as other MASS LBP events: the Citizens' Reference Panel. The Panel met over two weekends and contained three distinct phases: a learning phase, a deliberation phase, and a final recommendations phase. Over the course of the process, Panelists to work together to explain, justify, and agree on a set of shared recommendations.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The program of the B.C. Services Card User Panel was held over two weekends in November and was designed to move through three distinct phases. A learning phase ensured that each Panelist had the opportunity to become better informed about the issues at hand. Twelve experts were invited to participate as guests and offered Panelists important insights. During the deliberation phase, Panelists worked together to identify guiding values, assess the needs of B.C. residents for online access to government services, and determine priorities for future uses of the B.C. Services Card. In this phase, Panelists were asked not only to bring forward their personal perspective, but to work towards common proposals that were in the best interest of all B.C. residents. Lastly, a third and final recommendations phase required Panelists to work together to explain and justify in detail their shared recommendations.
Weekend #1: November 15 to 17, 2013
The 35 members of the User Panel met for the first time over dinner on Friday night in Vancouver. One member of the panel lived only a few blocks away while others travelled many hours from remote, rural communities. As they arrived, Panel members were greeted by the facilitation team and presented with a binder containing the orientation and learning materials that they would use for the duration of the panel. Once everyone was seated for dinner, the chair of the Panel, Peter MacLeod (MASS LBP), welcomed the panellists. He gave a brief overview of the process, reminding the panellists that they had a lot to accomplish in just two weekends, and that they would all need to work hard to meet the deadline.
Over dinner, the Panelists chatted informally about their lives and work, and explained why they had decided to volunteer. Six panel members had already participated in the IdentityNorth Specialists Forum, which had taken place earlier in the week. They were keen to share with their new colleagues some of what they had learned.
After their meal, A University of Victoria professor gave the first of twelve expert presentations. A well-regarded scholar on the subject of national identity systems and cards, the Professor urged the Panelists to think carefully about whether the B.C. Services Card was a good solution to the problems it purported to solve. He encouraged the Panelists to keep in mind five questions:
- Is the type of authentication appropriately matched to the problem that needs solving?
- Are there simpler, less risky solutions to the problem being described?
- What is going on beneath the surface of the Services Card program?
- How is data analyzed and stored?
- What are the implications for offline access if online services become widely popular?
His remarks kicked off a lively question-and-answer session that lasted nearly an hour. It was a strong start to the work ahead. The User Panel adjourned shortly before 9:00 p.m.
On Saturday morning, members of the User Panel arrived at the B.C. Showcase in Robson Square. This would be the panel’s home for the next two weekends. At 8:30 a.m., the panel officially began its work. An elder from the Musqueam First nation, blessed the panellists and the proceedings while welcoming them to the traditional territories of his people. Next, B.C.’s Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services welcomed the Panelists, thanking them for serving on the panel and working on behalf of all B.C. residents. He explained why he and his Ministry were eager to hear the Panel’s recommendations.
Next, the chair of the panel, Peter MacLeod, provided an hour-long orientation to the process and explained what the members should expect. Together, they reviewed the Terms of Reference they had received from the government. MacLeod reminded them that, as representatives of all B.C. residents, their job was “to put themselves in someone else’s shoes,” and to try to develop recommendations that benefit the province as a whole.
After the orientation, each Panelist took a moment to introduce themselves and share why they had volunteered. Many expressed curiosity and a desire to learn, others a sense of civic responsibility. Though several of the Panelists worked in technology-related professions, the majority of the members were only as familiar as most people are with the technology they use everyday. Like most people, they use email and social media, and have smartphones without understanding much about the underlying technologies.
Next, the Panelists broke into small groups to discuss the different IDs they use in their everyday lives. Panelists showed off everything from grocery reward cards to official emergency response volunteer cards, from credit cards to Certificates of Indian Status. Altogether, the group carried several hundred loyalty and ID cards. Shortly before 11:00 a.m., the Executive Director of Strategic Design and Transformation at MTIC, made the first formal presentation of the day, describing how the B.C. government could one day offer access to its services online. Following MacLennan’s presentation, the Chief Technology Officer for the Province of B.C., briefed the Panelists on the design of the B.C. Services Card and the system architecture of the identity management system. Bailey explained why conventional usernames and passwords do not provide adequate security when accessing highly sensitive personal information. He then demonstrated how the card could be used to verify an individual’s identity by tapping the card against a card reader and inputting a passcode. He did this while explaining the technology at work ‘behind the scenes’ and why a central feature of the identity management system was its ability to preserve anonymity while processing highly secure transactions.
Following a quick lunch, Panelists met an internet entrepreneur and widely-regarded expert on digital identity and security who gave a rapid-fire presentation that described digital identity as a transformative ‘platform’ that would provide B.C. with a tremendous economic advantage and technical edge over other jurisdictions. He encouraged the Panelists to think long-term and see the B.C. Services Card not only as a solution to immediate problems, but as an important piece of high-tech infrastructure.
The final speaker for the afternoon was the Policy Director for the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). In her entertaining and passionate remarks, she argued primarily for caution. While acknowledging the potential value and convenience of the Services Card, she focused on the risks the BCCLA had highlighted in an earlier report to the government. Was the panel confident that the system would work as planned? Would all the promised privacy and security features be implemented —and what if budgets were cut? Personal data is valuable to program and product designers— would privacy protections erode in the face of sustained pressure from those seeking to access this data? Would future governments uphold current privacy protections? The questions she posed stood in sharp contrast to the earlier presentation, and the panellists responded vigorously, asking several dozen questions of both speakers.
Towards the end of the afternoon, the members once again split into small groups, this time to begin developing their guiding values for the Identity Management Program. With the help of the facilitation team, each group began a spirited discussion, creating long lists of values they believed were important. This would be the first time the Panelists would have the chance to test their thinking against one another. Each group took turns explaining which values they had selected. Tired from what was already a full day, Panelists took a two-hour break before reconvening for dinner. After dinner, and fortified by coffee, the Panelists heard from three final experts: the Manager in Driver Licensing at ICBC, the Executive Director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, and the Chair of the Digital Identity and Authentication Council of Canada and Deputy Minister, B.C. Ministry Of Energy and Mines.
The Manager in Driver Licensing at ICBC started by describing why ICBC has invested heavily in technology to prevent fraud. The Services Card is a major tool, which he believes would make it far more difficult to defraud the health system, or to produce counterfeit ID cards.
The Executive Director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association then discussed the history of the Digital Services Consultation, asking why it had taken a recommendation from the Information and Privacy Commissioner before it had occurred. Panelists learned the rationale for the identity management system, and about the idea that the Services Card system would also bring economic benefits if used by businesses. After several rounds of questions, the panel adjourned at 9:00 p.m.
The next morning, the Panelists met again at 8:30 a.m., ready to unpack everything they had heard and discussed the day before. To get started, the Panelists returned to their groups from the previous day and drafted definitions for the values they had identified. These were collected by the facilitation team and to finalized during the second weekend. Panelists spent the remainder of the morning discussing and prioritizing which government services they use most frequently, as well as which services they would like to be able to access online.
After lunch, the groups discussed whether they would feel comfortable using the B.C. Services Card to access different online services. Each group sorted their list of online services along a spectrum from ‘not at all comfortable’ to ‘completely comfortable,’ while discussing and noting down their concerns and ideas. Towards the end of the day, the Panelists again took up the question of values, this time discussing which values they felt were important in relation to the online services they had spent the afternoon discussing. But this was already more than enough. In just two days, the Panelists had covered a lot of ground. Following a quick presentation from each discussion group, the members adjourned until their second meeting two weeks later.
Weekend #2: November 29 to December 1, 2013
The Panelists greeted each other warmly as they arrived for dinner Friday night. They were quick to catch up on news and share the ideas they had had since the first meeting. They also discussed the draft summary report of the IdentityNorth Specialists Forum, which they had each received earlier that week.
Following dinner, the panel members settled in for the first of two final presentations. The Executive Director for the Legislation, Privacy and Policy Branch within the Office of B.C.’s Chief Information Officer, spoke for 30 minutes about the protections built into B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), the role of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and how FIPPA is periodically amended to keep up with changing technologies. After a two-week break, the members leapt in, asking questions for more than an hour.
The following morning, Panelists took a moment to revisit their Terms of Reference and clarify what they had to accomplish by the end of Sunday. Then Peter MacLeod, the panel chair, walked the group through preliminary findings from the government’s online public survey on digital services and the B.C. Services Card. He also walked the panel through 14 key privacy and security commitments that the government had made concerning the B.C. Services Card and the Identity Management Program. The Panelists then spent thirty minutes completing their discussion concerning digital services values from the previous weekend.
With that done, they welcomed B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, and their final speaker. The Commissioner spent over an hour in conversation with members of the User Panel. She described her responsibilities, powers, and role as an independent officer of the provincial legislature. She thanked the members for their service on the panel, and spoke broadly about why she had recommended that the government consult with B.C. residents. She also reviewed some of the recommendations and concerns her staff had highlighted with regards to the B.C. Services Card and identity management system.
Following the Commissioner's presentation, the Panelists reorganized themselves into six thematic working groups, each focused on a different area of government services: health, transportation, income support and social services, education and libraries, business, licenses and taxes, and miscellaneous services (which included ‘citizenship’ and ‘payment’ services). Reviewing each service in careful detail and considering the risks and benefits associated with using the card, they sorted the services in their group into three categories: Provisionally Acceptable Uses, Additional Caution Recommend, and Restricted Uses.
After lunch, each group presented its most important preliminary conclusions, and received feedback from the rest of the User Panel. After integrating this feedback, each working group focused on identifying actions that the government could take to increase public confidence in the B.C. Services Card’s digital authentication features. Some of the measures the Panelists proposed were specific to their area of focus, which others were ‘universal,’ and were intended to apply to all services. Before wrapping up for the afternoon, each group presented their progress and received feedback from the User Panel as a whole. After a two-hour break, the group reconvened for dinner, where members had an opportunity to talk candidly with one another about the progress they’d made and the direction that the panel’s recommendations were taking. The next morning, the panel reconvened for their last day and quickly set to work putting their recommendations on paper.
While more than half the panel members remained in their services-themed working groups, other members split off to form three new teams: one to draft the panel’s introductory remarks, one to finalize the two sets of guiding values (for digital services and the identity management system respectively), and one to take responsibility for reconciling all the ‘Universal Confidence Measures’ generated the day before. The Panel's Chair provided a few tips for how to structure their recommendations, and as the morning progressed each group worked diligently to integrate the feedback of other members and reach consensus.
Two hours later, everyone paused to listen to extensive updates from each of the groups, and to flag any remaining issues or objections. At this point, several recommendations were rejected by the panel and were either dropped or significantly revised. This was in keeping with the spirit of the process and proved how effective good collaboration could be.
The User Panel worked through lunch, aware that the Deputy Minister of Technology, Innovation, and Citizens’ Services, would be arriving shortly to listen to the final reading of their draft report. As the clock counted down the final minutes, each group completed its task. Next they took turns reading out the different sections of the report in the order in which they would appear when it was printed.
A sense of real accomplishment and pride filled the room as the final words of the report were read. Now it fell to the panel chair to remind everyone that they would continue to have the opportunity to revise this first draft across email over the coming weeks. Each Panelist was then presented with a Certificate of Public Service and the meetings of the B.C. Services Card User Panel was officially closed.
The User Panel had confidence in the underlying architecture on which the identity management system is based. They believed that the system could benefit residents, and were especially supportive of using the card to simplify everyday transactions of basic information with government. This confidence, however, was conditional. The panel’s report lists ten additional measures that members believe should be implemented before the digital authentication system is activated.
Concerning future potential uses for the card, the Panel was unconvinced that ‘more’ equals ‘better’ and did not believe that attaching all possible services to the card would create greater value for B.C. residents. In fact, they caution the government against connecting too many services to an as-yet unproven system. Instead, they recommend a ‘go-slowly’ approach that sees new services added to the system only once the technology is thoroughly tested, the business case is clear, effective oversight is in place and fully funded, and public confidence in the system is well-established.
Though the convenience to users and cost-savings to government associated with digital services were highly attractive to many members of the User Panel, they remained concerned that the potential for privacy breaches and unlawful or unethical surveillance by government may never be fully mitigated.
These concerns, as well as others found in their report, should be top-of-mind for the public servants charged with the implementation of the system.
The User Panel also recommended that government:
- Implement strong, ongoing, and independent oversight
- Maintain traditional channels for services
- Enable personal monitoring and control of data
- Strengthen public awareness and consultation
- Expand digital access to services gradually
- Focus on increasing the convenience of transacting information with government
- Preserve anonymous services, and avoid using the Services Card for payments, transportation-related services, and non-governmental uses
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The recommendations were accepted and adopted by the Provincial Government. According to the Minister for Technology, Innovation, and Citizen Services, "The consultations fine-tuned and supplemented the existing principles that have guided B.C.’s approach on providing secure access to online services. Based on what we have learned from the consultation process, we will apply the following six principles to guide our decisions, and by which we expect the program to be held accountable. To help describe how these principles will be applied, we have described specific commitments and actions that result from these principles." Following these principles, the government committed to undertaking the following actions:
- Enhance information on the government website
- Provide service providers with information on how to use the BC Services Card to deliver their services.
- Explore two service opportunities to demonstrate value
- Provide OIPC opportunity to review new services prior to their launch
- Provide guidelines to help service providers understand service value, and make the guidelines publicly available
- Provide service providers with methods to assess service delivery channels
- Test and validate designs with users
- Ensure new services using the BC Services Card adhere to established privacy practices 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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Citizens' Reference Panel
The original submission of this case entry was adapted from the BC Services Card User Panel on Digital Services Final Report with permission from MASS LBP. It has since been edited and expanded by the Participedia community and does not necessarily reflect the views of MASS LBP.
 BC Ministry of Technology, Innovation, and Citizen Services, 'Minister's Report', 2013, https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/121/2017/02/DigitalServicesConsultation_report.pdf