Research firm Gartner has issued a favourable report on Hong Kong's contentious smart identification card programme, saying the initiative will put the SAR at the forefront of deploying the technology. Dion Wiggins, research director at Gartner Group in Hong Kong, said the SAR was continuing its history of pioneering smart card use with its decision to issue ID cards with an embedded chip to all residents. 'Once implemented, Hong Kong will be well-positioned to deliver efficient government services as well as provide greater security, community benefits, access and streamlined secure e-commerce to its entire population,' Mr Wiggins wrote in a briefing paper last week. 'The implementation of the [smart card] project will take Hong Kong a long way towards its goal of being one of the first truly digital economies.' Australia-based Gartner analyst Robin Simpson said Hong Kong would be the first government to implement a multi-purpose, multi-application smart ID for its population. 'One reason that the Hong Kong SAR project is so significant is that for the first time, smart card infrastructure will be very widely deployed across the whole geography to service the entire population,' he said. Mr Simpson said other jurisdictions had wrestled with a dilemma where citizens would not want smart cards unless they could use them everywhere, but enterprise would not deploy sufficient infrastructure unless a large number of people had smart cards. He said the project was also significant because it was the first time a government had encouraged private enterprise to take advantage of the smart card infrastructure by allowing certified third-party applications to be loaded on to the cards. The new ID card programme will be formally launched in July, and the cards will be phased in over four years. They will store data including a photograph and fingerprints, and can optionally be used as a digital certificate, driving licence and library card. Despite government assurances that the information stored on the cards will be secure, there have been concerns over forgery or theft. However, Gartner concludes that the existing ID card system, which was introduced in 1987, is 'outdated and no longer able to meet the growing needs of the . . . Government'. Mr Wiggins said Hong Kong's small population and mandatory identity card programme made the adoption of smart cards easier to execute. He said the HK$3 billion programme cost is only 10 per cent higher than the cost to replace existing ID cards with a non-smart ID. Gartner concludes that Hong Kong will be one of the few places where smart ID cards are embraced in the near future. In the United States, where the Government is pondering a national ID card programme in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, there has been fierce resistance to the idea. Adding smart functions to the cards will make them even less palatable, Gartner predicts. The report said: 'National identification cards will face a steep uphill battle that will impede their deployment and acceptance in the US. Through 2007, US-based identification card deployers will encounter substantial resistance to adoption that will increase with added functionality.'