Rust problem means ID cards are not so smart

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2011, 12:00am


More and more 'smart' identity cards are becoming dumb.

Rust and other problems may be affecting the performance of the smart chips, causing rejection by automated channels supposed to hurry people through the border.

The Immigration Department said about 28,560 smart identity cards had been reported damaged because of chip failure since 2003. The malfunction rate has more than doubled over the last three years.

Oxidation is believed to be one of the reasons behind the failure of the chip embedded on the smart ID card, which the contractor said could be read and written over 100,000 times and last for 10 years.

Around 0.3 per cent of the 9.52 million smart cards issued - or about 28,560 - have had to be replaced due to chip failure. This rate is higher than the 0.12 per cent revealed in the Legislative Council in January 2008, by which point 9,500 cards had been replaced due to card failure among the 7.7 million cards issued.

Smart card expert Dr Cheng Lee-ming, of City University's electronic engineering department, said: 'The layer of nickel on the chip can be worn out if it gets into contact with acid material, and a small amount of acid can remain on the leather of a wallet.'

One businessman, who got his smart ID card in 2005, said he started having problems at the border about a year ago. He checked with a border immigration officer, who told him that there were some stains on the chip and suggested he remove them with a rubber.

But another immigration officer told him otherwise.

'The officer told me it was no use rubbing it, as it [the chip] had become rusty and I would need to replace my ID card. He said other people had had the same problem,' he said.

The frequent traveller said he was too busy to arrange a replacement, and had to queue up at the manual counter every time he crossed the border. 'I never imagined that a smart ID card would malfunction. My time is precious and a lot of it has been wasted,' he said.

A replacement costs HK$335, but an immigration spokesman said it could be replaced for free if the cardholder could show he was not responsible for the damage.

About 9.52 million smart identity cards have been issued since June 2003. Around 1.2 million replacement cards have been issued due to loss, damage, and/or defacement, according to the department.

A person working in a high-level acid environment, such as in construction, printing, plastic, or electroplate industries, would have a higher chance of their identity card becoming rusty, according to Cheng, of City University.

'Don't rub the chip as the rest of the nickel could be rubbed away. Using ethanol could be a possible way to clean those stains from the chip,' he said.

The Immigration Department said an external consultant had conducted a review of the system and saw no immediate need to launch a city-wide identity card replacement. The department will conduct a comprehensive review in 2013.

New for old

Since June 2003, the number of cards replaced due to loss, damage or defacement is: 1.2m




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