Privacy crucial for new identity cards

With our current ID cards having passed their optimum 10-year lifespan, it is good news that their replacement promises “state-of-the-art” technology. But it is crucial that the new system ensures full protection of personal information

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 1:41am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 1:41am

Technologically, the most dated things about us may be our Hong Kong “smart” identification cards, which were issued from 2003 to 2007. Apart from having passed their optimum 10-year lifespan, they have been overtaken by generations of innovation and are no longer so smart. It is good news therefore that their replacement is well advanced, with details of the bright-sounding design including pink, light blue and light green colours having been revealed to lawmakers.

More important is the security of the cards against photo substitution and counterfeiting, and safeguards for our personal data and privacy. Immigration officials have promised “state-of-the-art” technology, such as built-in radio frequency identification transmission to improve security and data retrieval speeds.

The new cards already anticipate new technology, one example being expanded storage capacity for a higher resolution photo to support facial recognition. They also are meant to provide a platform for alternative biometric identification to fingerprints. In that sense they are “future proofed” up to a point, remembering that technology tends to update every two years or so.

Design of new Hong Kong smart identity card revealed

However, the privacy issue must be flagged. After all, the people of some countries with which Hong Kong compares itself, such as Britain and Australia, remain hostile to any suggestion of introducing ID cards. It has to be expected that concerns will be expressed about the security of personal data, and whether the day will come when ID cards will reveal sensitive material like banking details and spending patterns. To ensure personal information in the new ID system is fully protected, the department pledged to conduct privacy assessments through independent consultants and submit reports to the city’s privacy watchdog.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly how important this is to enhance public confidence in an ID system that is crucial to the security and day-to-day life of a regional financial and commercial hub. At the same time, it must be acknowledged we have a role to play in ensuring that ID cards enhance our security by exercising caution in allowing other people access to them.