Biometric ID Card Embarks on New Paradigm

Biometric ID Card Embarks on New Paradigm

These are extremely exciting days as far as developments in the integration of national ID cards with the smartcard are concerned; and for the first time since the smartcard entered the market, we are beginning to see a change in usage.

Over the years, there have been great advances in the development of ID cards, the chronological progress of which may be summarized in three phases. At the moment we are at the start of a third development phase; and with the biometric solutions available, discussing what the future ID card market has in store is of great interest.

Fingerprint Recognition on ID Cards
Many countries are choosing to incorporate biometric information such as fingerprints in their national ID cards and thus increase control and strengthen verification between cards and cardholders. Thailand, Portugal, Bahrain and Qatar are among the countries which have seen the possibilities and as a consequence have decided to implement smartcard technology with biometric information on their ID cards; and there are many other countries, predominantly in Europe, Asia and the Middle East which have shown great interest in the technology. The biometrics-embedded smartcard offers countless opportunities when it comes to reliable identification without sacrificing personal integrity.

Development in Three Phases
The first national ID card projects where smartcards replaced the classic ID card started some 10 years ago in pioneering countries such as Sweden and Finland. It was a matter of preventing people from falsifying photos on paper ID cards. This new generation of ID cards with smartcard technology solved the problem of falsification by storing the photo and other printed information electronically on the card in a chip, which acted as a secure information container.

From the point of view of the cardholder, there were no actual changes in the use of the new ID cards compared with the old system. Although attempts were made to add functionality to the card such as credit card and cash card features, this generated no real interest in the market.

The conclusion was that the security aspect had been dealt with, but otherwise no particular progress had been made. In reality, the new ID cards brought nothing new to users but merely involved a more expensive solution for a product, which, from the point of view of the cardholder was little different from its predecessor.

Biometrics for Increased Control
The second phase in ID card development started with the introduction of automatic biometrics into the market. Biometric information could now be checked and measured automatically outside the card, using so-called Template-on-Card solutions. Countries such as Malaysia and Hong Kong adopted this solution for their ID cards. Their governments were seeking to strengthen verification between the cardholder's identity and the card, i.e. the specific link between the person and the smartcard. In certain cases, this resulted in the speeding up of identity checks and thus improved flow; but as with previous solutions, there was little expansion in the use of the card from the point of view of the cardholder.

In most cases it was the authorities who took the initiative and advocated the use of second-generation cards with Template-on-Card solutions, and the card found its main area of application precisely in identifying users to the authorities, thus hardly changing cardholders' areas of application as the ID card continued to be restricted to this kind of use. Template-on-Card technology, where verification takes place outside the card, limits the applications of the ID card, since it precludes third parties from using the biometric information, e.g. shop staff seeking to check the age of a customer. Hardware having to be issued by a trusted party, limits options for broad use of and flexibility in the system. In other words, a third party still depends on verifying the cardholder against his/her photo on the ID card.

We have only seen the beginning of the third phase. Using biometrics-embedded smartcard technology, verification between the cardholder and the smartcard is performed by the actual chip on the ID card. This is a major advantage, as the information on the card never leaves the chip; and it is easier to involve third parties to supply applications and biometric hardware such as fingerprint readers.

Portugal is the first European country to roll out ID cards with fingerprint identification combined with smartcard technology. Gemalto was commissioned to issue 14 million cards over a seven-year period. What makes Portugal's card so revolutionary is the fact that it replaces five citizen's cards (Social Security Card, Taxpayer Card, National Health Service Card, Voter's Card and the ordinary ID card). It will now be more difficult to falsify votes, as voters must present their fingerprints when voting.

New Areas of Application
The third-generation ID card can be used in shops or at nightclubs to check age limits for goods such as tobacco and alcohol. The checking of information against an actual person using biometrics will allow authorities to verify that identification is being authenticated, while at the same time giving sales staff a receipt to prove they have done their jobs and will not risk criticism. The new ID cards can also be of great use when registering mobile subscriptions, when it is necessary to verify that the person getting the number is the actual person concerned.

Biometrics-embedded smartcard technology is relevant for all social bodies that require acknowledgement that they have checked a particular piece of information which is stored on the ID card, such as age and name. The solution also guarantees personal integrity, as the information in the chip never leaves the card and thus there is no risk that it can be broadcast or exploited by unauthorized persons. The solution will allow the smartcard to revolutionize national ID cards in the same way as it has done with bank cards, where PIN and biometrics-embedded smartcards have made Europay, Mastercard and VISA architecture possible.

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