By Emma Nash
Smart cards are a hot issue because they will soon play an increasingly important role in our lives. However some experts on the industry warn there are a number of problems that need to be addressed, particularly over privacy and deployment. The question of standards has also arisen (CI No 3,162) and it has been acknowledged that it is essential that global standardisation must be achieved before we can think about incorporating smart cards into our daily lives. Although smart cards haven’t really taken off yet in the UK, they have already seen success in Europe. Some 70% of all smart cards in use around the world are being used in Europe. Adoption of smart cards is a global race, according to Bill Mayon-White, visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. He says a global strategy is the only one that makes sense, partly because development costs as are so high, and says its no use individual countries doing their own thing. But Bill Waller, commercial general manager at smart card giant Gemplus SA in the UK, says the industry has been collaborating to establish regulations and the International Standards Organization has implemented a global standard designed to regulate the cards and card readers. There has also been confusion as to exactly what is a smart card. Adrian Cannon, general manager of the smart card division in the UK at Bull Information Systems, which has some 750 smart card patents, said a true smart card has to have an operating system, at least one microprocessor, a memory and has to be the same shape and size as a bank credit or cash card. But the research director at think- tank DEMOS, a man bizarrely named, Perri 6, put the case for government intervention at a seminar in London this week and warned the industry will be doomed if prompt action is not taken. Talking about standards, he said: We have about 18 months to get them right and if we get them wrong, the future of smart cards in the UK is very bleak. All of the speakers highlighted the problems concerning public privacy and the threat of data collection without consent. If smart cards operate in the way they are being talked about at the moment, we will have multiple applications on the card containing important and often confidential information.
Security does not mean anonymity
Privacy and anonymity are therefore concerning industry watchers and 6 argues that security does not mean anonymity. He says if people have several applications on one card, such as their banking details and services, insurance policies and library membership details, they would not necessarily want the insurance company knowing what books they took out of the library. But Waller dismisses this as a complete load of rubbish. He said the industry is addressing the problems associated with personal identity, instigating measures that will protect personal information. But it could be argued that multi-application cards also spell problems when it comes to matters of ownership. Bank cards, or even library cards, are generally the property of the issuer and have to be surrendered on request. However, if we get to the point where one card is used for practically everything, from banking services to library membership, electronic cash payment on buses and insurance details, the card holder will purchase the card and install the applications they want. If the smart card is really going to take off, the general public will have to place their trust in banks, the public sector, shops and other organizations. According to 6, research in the UK found 34% of people surveyed didn’t trust their banks and 30% of people didn’t trust anyone at all. The issue of fraud and hackers is also causing concern and Mayon-White points out that hackers work just as quickly on cracking codes, as the computer developers working to preventing them. Connected to this is the problem of theft or loss. It is a problem if we lose a cash card or an insurance document, and even more of a worry if a purse or a wallet is stolen. While it is inevitable
that smart cards will be lost and stolen, Mayon-White says smart cards will be more secure than traditional banking cards and the risk of misuse is limited. Waller also said people seem to be ignoring the positive things that smart cards are responsible for, such as the part they play in the medical and communication arenas. Smart cards are very much part of the technological revolution of the 20th Century and some people are concerned that technology is moving too fast. Keith Wood, a member of the Federation of Electronics Industry said public access is at risk, and he was worried that there will be a lot of people who won’t be able or want to cope with the smart card. He pointed out that some 318 million people out of the 800 million population of Europe are in some way disadvantaged, either physically or mentally and unlikely to cope with the adoption of smart cards. This figure includes 80 million elderly people, a group likely to find it most difficult to get to grips with electronic cash. Cannon states: Smart cards need smart people. Technology is moving very quickly and the question is, are people ready for it?