In a building where face-to-face debates between political opponents are normal activities, the British Columbia legislature will be a much different place when it returns Monday for a summer sitting. The B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C. is shown on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

British Columbians can now verify their identity by video from home, and access more government services online.

The virtual card verification process was the subject of a news conference Tuesday by Anne Kang, NDP MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake and minister of citizens' services.

The province says B.C. is the first jurisdiction in North America to use a verification-by-video system for identification.

Kang said the card is meant to provide faster, easier access to online services.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become the new normal to go online to learn, to work, to find the things that we need," Kang said from Victoria.

Among the issues that have popped up during the pandemic is high call volumes to Service BC.

The mobile service card is a digital version of the existing BC Services Card, which can be kept on a mobile device, she said.

And it now includes an option to send video and photos to verify the user's identity, meaning they no longer need to appear in person.

The virtual card can be stored on a smartphone or paired with a computer. Having an online card prevents the need to visit a Services BC location in person.

The services card is a piece of identification that can be used as photo identification, and to access health services, as well as B.C.'s corporate registry, personal income taxes through the Canada Revenue Agency and to submit a Freedom of Information Request.

The province says 17 government services are available online for now, and there are plans for future expansion.

Among those is StudentAid BC. Students applying for the fall semester will be able to start and track their applications online, the province says.

Speaking on behalf of B.C.'s minister of advanced education, MLA Bob D'Eith says the mobile ID will make it faster, easier and more secure for students to apply online.

The card can also be used to log in to devices including laptops, tablets and phones, the province says.

The set up takes about five minutes, according to the province, though there is a one-time security check.

To set up an online version, existing card holders first need to download the BC Services Card app. They'll be asked to scan or enter their card's serial number, located on the back, and will be asked to confirm their birthday.

They'll be asked for an email address, which is used to contact virtual cardholders about logins. A code will be sent to that email address.

They'll then be asked choose between verifying their account in person or by video within a week of starting the application.

Those who choose video will be asked to participate in a video call with a Services BC representative to confirm their identity.

The call can be initiated within the app. Cardholders will need to take a photo of themselves to be compared with their ID. The videos and photos will then be sent to the BC Services Card program.

During the video call, Service BC will ask for personal information meant to help verify the cardholder's identity, a post on the app says.

The province warns that anyone able to log into a phone with a registered fingerprint or password will be able to access the virtual services card. There is no password required to access the card, once a mobile device is unlocked.