New ID cards may get extra functions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 12:00am

More services and functions are being considered for the smart identity cards that will be introduced next year, a senior Immigration Department official said yesterday, while admitting such a move could raise privacy concerns.

The department already has said the cards may be used as a library card, a driver's licence and an electronic certificate for Internet transactions, but assistant immigration director Raymond Wong Wai-man said more functions could be added.

'People have suggested storing a person's blood type on the card for emergency. There are suggestions for more commercial services,' Mr Wong said at a University of Hong Kong forum on the smart cards.

But he said any additional services that were not related to immigration purposes would depend on public acceptance and demands, and must follow data protection and privacy laws.

'People may, in the end, decide they don't want any more functions,' Mr Wong said.

A cardholder may opt not to use any of the extra functions, but if he or she does use them, the information will be kept by the relevant government department and will not be shared with other departments under privacy laws.

The first smart ID cards will be introduced from May next year.

The Government hopes to replace all cards by 2007. Each card, which carries a microchip that stores personal data including the holder's fingerprint, will, it is estimated, cost more than $35.

There are two operating systems for smart cards available in the world market, Java and Multos, and the Government has chosen Multos, developed mainly by British companies.

Cheng Lee-ming, an associate professor in computer engineering and information technology at City University, said Java offered better security and flexibility, but Pacific Century CyberWorks' (PCCW) computer engineer Eric Law Chun-wah disputed his claims at the forum.

PCCW won a $163 million government contract to provide the hardware and software systems for the smart ID cards in February, based on the Multos system.