Marrying Passports and Smart Cards

Hastily arranged though it may be, this union's offspring could include millions of national ID cards and driver's licenses with chips and biometrics

ICAO allowed for the possibility of a removable smart card, but asked for a report on the technical implications of such a card, according to Singapore sources. Singapore made its first report on what it has named the Smart VIP card last month, and a follow-up discussion is scheduled for the next meeting of ICAO's New Technology Working Group in New Zealand in December.

The Smart VIP specification calls for a card with at least 32 kilobytes of available memory, contact and contactless interfaces, and the processing power to match a fingerprint biometric on the card itself so that card readers would not need that functionality.

The dual-interface chip is needed so that the card can be used with contact smart card readers attached to PCs-contactless readers are several times more expensive. That would allow citizens to identify themselves when accessing government services online. The project is being coordinated by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, which promotes the use of information technology in the country, along with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration and Customs Authority.

Frequent Fliers
Singapore also plans to use the smart card form factor in a test of an electronic passport with an application that allows travelers who have undergone background checks to move through airport security quickly.

Sources say the test will be conducted in conjunction with other members of the Asia IC Card Forum, an organization created in June by Asian governments seeking common smart card standards. Besides Singapore, the charter members are South Korea, China and Japan. The forum plans to invite other Asian nations to join.

In European countries, too, work on the electronic passport is going hand in hand with development of other high-tech ID documents.

In the Netherlands, where citizens already carry a national ID card, the technology being developed for chip-based passports may well find its way into a more sophisticated national identity document.

The Dutch Ministry of the Interior began a six-month test in August, with a goal of recruiting at least 15,000 volunteers to apply for a chip-based, biometric passport or national ID card at the same time as they sign up for today's chip-less documents. A 10-euro ($12) discount on the passport is offered as an incentive to attract volunteers, says Rudi De Bie, international sales director for Sdu Identification of the Netherlands, which is providing the passports and ID cards.

The test is meant to refine the process of enrolling citizens and issuing documents. A digital photo and two fingerprints of each volunteer will be collected and sent to Sdu's personalization center, which then produces a passport and ID card as it would if chip-based documents were the norm. The biometric-enabled documents are used to verify the identity of the citizen, but then collected. The citizen leaves with only the conventional passport or ID card, De Bie says.

De Bie says the U.S. mandate makes it likely the government will prioritize moving to chip-based passports after the test. However, he says, the test of the same technology in the national ID suggests the government will at least consider using contactless chips and biometrics in that card as well.

Sweden, too, may use some common technology in its passport and ID card. The Swedish national police agency, the Rikspolisstyrelsen, in August awarded a 100 million euro, five-year contract to Finland-based smart card and secure document supplier Setec Oy to supply both ICAO-compliant passports and the country's electronic ID, or EID card. Deliveries of both the chip-based passports and EID card are to begin by October 2005.

The EID card-which will contain a contact smart card chip, unlike the contactless chip in the passport-will be voluntary and carry a digital certificate for securing online transactions. In that respect, it will be similar to a card supplied by Setec to Finland, where some 40,000 citizens have been issued the document, says Pekka Eloholma, president and CEO of Setec.

Similar technology to that developed for passports also appears likely to show up in residency permits and visas issued by the European Union's 25 member states. The EU has decided that those documents will carry a facial image and two fingerprints, and a committee is examining the possibility of using a contactless smart card chip to hold that data, according to a spokesman for the European Commission's Justice and Home Affairs Department.