Getting carded: The national ID debate

What’s not to like about the security a national ID card could provide? Plenty.

Congress’s desire to move forward with a standardized driver’s license, or national ID card, has implications beyond civil rights. CIOs in industries such as airline, car rental and retail will have a decision to make. If they purchase the technology necessary to read critical information from the licenses, they will have to put serious money down to the tune of US$60 million, according to John C. Hervey, CTO for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in Bowling Green, Ky.

The magnetic strip on driver’s licenses can store up to three tracks of information. The majority of information is currently held on the second track. However, many of the proposals floating around Congress suggest putting information on the more secure third track, which some electronic readers can’t scan. Hervey says NACS has been working closely with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to come up with license standards, but their joint requests to put the information on a track that is already accessible have gone unanswered. With the various proposals for national ID cards debating the inclusion of such things as basic citizen information, like gender and other physical characteristics, and Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) idea to use biometric indicators, the current scanning technology could be obsolete. It’s not only the cost. According to Hervey, it can take seven to nine years for convenience stores to replace the outdated equipment possibly longer for airlines.

CIOs shouldn’t overlook the privacy implications either, says Sonia Arrison, director of the Center for Technology Studies at the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, a policy analysis organization. If the government ultimately sets the standards for the ID card, CIOs will need to take a hard look at whether they want to buy into a system when “the government has yet to demonstrate it can keep its own systems secure,” Arrison says, referring to the recurring privacy problems on government websites.

At press time, no proposals had passed a hearing stage, but Hervey thinks there are ways to make a national ID card work should it become law. He points to success with electronic debit cards, which replaced food stamps in convenience stores; the states provided stores with the new readers. With such assistance, retailers could comply with the law in a way that wouldn’t cost them financially, although implementation would still take time. State assistance won’t help with the privacy issues, which will likely move to the forefront of the debate.

Cyber security bill update

The passage of the Cyber Security Research and Development Act has put technology, and consequently technology workers, on the front lines of the war on cyberterrorism. Originally introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), the bill addressed the possibility of a terrorist attack via the Internet and charged two organizations with providing experienced people to fight back. The National Science Foundation will create research centers and offer community college and undergraduate grants to promote technology education. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will create program grants for partnerships between people in the technology industry and academia, and also offer a program to encourage people already in the research field to work on computer security. The bill gives $880 million over five years for the programs. Diane Smiroldo, vice president of public affairs for Business Software Alliance, a key supporter of the bill, says this is the first step toward preparing the country for a war waged in cyberspace.