Smartcard providers poised for rollouts

Smartcard providers are gearing up for massive rollouts in thenext two years in the wake of a Australian government review intothe introduction of a national identity card.

In addition to an ID card review by Attorney General PhilipRuddock, plans are afoot to introduce photographs on Medicare cardsin a bid to combat identity fraud.

The government could introduce a number of cards following therejection of a central national identity model on the basis thatfraudsters would have to counterfeit only a single source ofinformation.

Australian Privacy Foundation chair Anna Johnston said a systemthat relies on a single source will increase the incidence of IDfraud.

“Document verification is about rooting out fake foundationdocuments,” she said. “It’s strength is support for a dispersed IDmodel and works in a way to minimize privacy intrusions. It’s ablind system and retains no data [but] its limitations is it won’tdeal with ‘real’ foundation documents obtained fraudulently.”

Johnston would like to see more detail about the cost of asmartcard strategy; whether it will make a positive or negativeimpact; what the considerations are for alternative designs; whatmight undermine the strategy, and whether all governmentdepartments will sing from same song sheet.

“Each state should do a cost/benefit analysis and there needs tobe more transparency around ID management initiatives,” shesaid.

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO)is also working on a range of standards for tokens, smartcards, PKIand biometrics.

Speaking at an identity management conference, Tony Halberg,AGIMO team leader for government authentication, said: “We’reconsidering what we need to do to encourage the use oftechnology.

“When we look at standards we can establish which ones might beuseful.”

The smartcard framework was released for comment in Decemberlast year and has so far received responses from a range oforganizations – both public and private – and those already usingsmartcards.

“It’s aimed at assisting government agencies to enable betterservice delivery for citizens and achieve consistency acrossagencies [and] hopefully it will improve interoperability,” hesaid. “In developing frameworks, standards need to be workable. Forexample, smartcards need to be practical and affordable, and complywith security requirements.”

And while embedding microchips in identity cards and documentsmay be seen as a step forward in the ongoing battle against fraud,there are fears of massive over-investment in unique systems withlittle interoperability.

Today’s smartcard landscape ranges from enterprises using thetechnology for computer access control and e-passports to visionsof a national ID card, a ‘smart’ Medicare card, as well as a cardfor all federal government employees.

Halberg admits there is a real risk “we could re-introduce therail-gauge problem” (Australia’s rail gauges differ from state tostate).

But assistant secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs andTrade’s passports branch, Bob Nash said the reality is a machinecan confirm the identity of an individual better than a person,giving weight to the security of a face-scanning e-passport.

“Some privacy advocates have misunderstood the government’sintentions – we want to secure people’s privacy and identity,” Nashsaid.

“This technology ensures the person holding the passport is thesame person to whom it was issued. We are not seeking anyadditional information.”

Sony Australia, which has completed smartcard implementations inSouth East Asia, has submitted a proposal to AGIMO regardingsmartcard adoption in Australia.

Sony believes Australia should adopt the Singaporean model, asolution dubbed EZ-link.

The company’s smartcard product manager Adam Faulkner said itsproposal advises the government that Australia doesn’t have tore-invent the wheel.

“We have a good roadmap for Australia. The government iscurrently looking at different elements for smartcards and ways toadd value; from our perspective the Singapore EZ-link card has beentremendously successful,” Faulkner said.

“There are multiple applications for the EZ-link card inSingapore and it is stated that Australia needs a card for multipleapplications so to just bring out one card with one function wouldnot work – in Singapore the smartcard allows people to buy food atMcDonalds or a 7-11, as well as being used as a building accesscontrol card.

“Singaporean users can go to a train station and recharge fundson the card, but the decision in Australia of what a smartcard willbe will be driven by government as it will decide the where andwhen. There have been a couple of discussions, but we (Sony) aretaking an advisory role until the government makes thedecision.”

The Singaporean EZ-link card was first implemented as anautomatic transport payment system in April 2002. About sevenmillion cards have been deployed since then, processing up to fourmillion transactions daily.

The card itself, titled FeliCa, is a contactless, cheap cardwith an integrated circuit. It has previously been implemented inHong Kong, China and Japan; however, due to Australia’s size,smartcards will not come cheap.

“The Australian government is advised to leverage the regionaleconomies of scale available to it, as a sustainable local marketis not likely to generate price benefits without sacrificingquality and reliability,” the proposal states.

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