The provincial government is backing away from a proposal to fingerprint every Ontarian for its new smart-card program.
"The likelihood of going ahead with biometrics is very, very low", Alexandra Gillespie, press secretary to Management Board Chairman Chris Hodgson, said yesterday afternoon.
Even though the province has hired a New York biometrics consulting company to study the possibility of using finger scans with smart cards, the idea will likely go nowhere, she said, explaining that there are concerns over privacy.
"The minister's primary concerns are really around privacy. If he could, he would be calling it a privacy card", Gillespie said.
But earlier in the day, she said it was for reasons of protecting privacy that the province has commissioned the International Biometrics Group to undertake a feasibility study of integrating biometrics with smart cards. Options under consideration include finger scans or retinal scans for all Ontarians.
"We're looking at retinal scans and fingerprints as a possibility", Gillespie said yesterday morning.
"That's been one of the considerations for a while. That's definitely part of the process."
"If we were to go ahead with biometrics, the most likely use would be a finger scan", she said, noting that it would be more cost effective than a retinal scan.
But after speaking with Hodgson later in the day, she said the minister had cooled to the idea.
The province plans to table legislation paving the way for smart cards this spring.
The high-tech cards would replace OHIP cards, drivers' licences, birth certificates, hunting and fishing licences, and any other cards that access government services.
The province's privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, said she's "delighted" the province is steering away from biometrics.
"We've always advised the minister that it's not the way to go", she said.
The standard of privacy required would be so high, no available technology could meet that and the privacy of Ontarians could be violated, she explained.
"Unless there are strict controls on the use of the technology, it could be very invasive", Cavoukian warned.
"Potentially, police could have access to it and other arms of law enforcement."
The smart cards could replace new photo health cards that are currently being issued to Ontarians.
More than 3.5 million photo health cards are currently in circulation in Ontario.
They are issued to new residents, new babies, people who have lost cards, and those enrolling in primary-care projects.