High-tech birth certificates in B.C. fight ID theft

British Columbia is enhancing the security of its birth certificates with the announcement of a new high-tech format beginning January 2008.

The province’s Health Minister George Abbott claimed the new birth certificates “will be one of the most hi-tech and durable documents in the world.” The new version will replace the old birth certificate formats, which has been in use for more than a decade.

“Creating a more secure version is an important way to assist British Columbians in protecting their identity,” Abbott said in a statement.

B.C.’s new birth certificate was a result of a pan-national security review of the document that began in September 2001, upon the request of provincial and territorial ministers responsible for Vital Statistics.

The birth certificate’s review and redesign process involved agencies like the Vital Statistics Council for Canada, Canadian Bank Note Company, as well as federal and provincial document security stakeholders. The goal of the redesign was to improve the security and durability of birth certificate documents, according to a B.C.-issued press statement.

The move was in line with efforts by governments across Canada to address problems around identity theft. “The high-tech security features built into this new birth certificate will help to protect people from those who try to profit from stealing personal information,” said John Les, solicitor general and minister responsible for consumer protection.

Last week, the federal government proposed amendments to the Criminal Code in a bid to give police more ammunition to catch identity thieves. One of the changes proposed is a new offence for people caught possessing personal information of other people with intent to commit fraud.

The new certificate is made of high-security plastic with over 20 security characteristics, including a watermark feature. The new design also contains forensic features that assist authorities in determining the validity of the document, according to Sarah Plank, spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Health.

It still comes in two versions: the large, with parental information, and the short with only the individual’s information. The large certificate is about 8.5 inches by 7 inches, while the small certificate is about 3.75 inches by 2.5 inches, according to Plank.

“The new certificate is designed to discourage people from carrying it in their wallet or purse (thousands of certificates are reported lost or stolen every month),” she said, adding that thousands of birth certificates were being reported lost or stolen every month.

B.C. is joined by seven other Canadian provinces – Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan – in the efforts to introduce the new high-security birth certificates between 2007 and 2008. The other provinces are expected to follow suit, but at a later date, the B.C. statement said.

B.C.’s Vital Statistics Agency plans to introduce in January a Web-based birth certificate ordering system to give British Columbians the option of ordering birth certificates online.

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