U.K. city council begins smart card e-government plan

Southampton City Council in Southampton, England, will begin a smart card-based e-government scheme this month, allowing citizens to apply for housing and to follow housing repair requests online, it said Wednesday.

The council has been running a smart-card scheme for its leisure and library facilities since June 2000, which Mervyn Holzer, the council’s specialist IT auditor, said it had been keen to develop. It is now part of a U.K. government project called Pathfinder that aims to deliver improved services online by funding 25 projects nationwide.

Up to 6,000 Southampton citizens will be supplied with a Cyberflex Java smart card from SchlumbergerSema, a subsidiary of New York company Schlumberger Ltd. These cards include a cryptographic coprocessor allowing them to be used, with a separately supplied PIN (personal identification number), to access the council’s portal, Holzer said. The council will install kiosks in housing offices for people without Web access, he said.

The council has been working with security software developers Entrust Inc. of Addison, Texas, since November 2001 on a PKI (public key infrastructure) certificate management system.

“We ran a quotation exercise and Entrust had the clearest understanding of what we wanted, and the most competitive offer, too,” Holzer said.

Citizens who want to be involved will need to bring identification to a housing office or to the project’s bureau where their details will fed into the Entrust system. Entrust will send digital certification to SchlumbergerSema, who will then send a card to the user. A PIN will be issued separately, Holzer said.

When the citizen logs on, Entrust’s GetAccess software will prompt for a PIN and check the certificate is valid. Once authenticated, the user can access the information they need.

The same system will eventually be used for council employees, the council said in a statement issued jointly with Ensure Wednesday.

“We want to (make this part of) our overall e-government technical infrastructure project. When the Pathfinder funding ends we’ll scale it up in anticipation of different business areas coming forward with e-government plans,” Holzer said.

The project was due to go live last week but there have been delays in setting up the PKI and getting kiosks in place, he said. The council has, however, identified target users through tenants’ associations. Initial user numbers are likely to be small, “in the tens, to start with,” he said.