‘No data risk’ with Hong Kong’s new smart ID card – and you can get into city four seconds faster

Deputy security minister dismisses worries about contactless technology leaving cards vulnerable to data theft

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 11:33pm

You will be able to get across the border four seconds faster and there will be no danger of personal information being stolen from the next generation of Hong Kong identity cards, it was revealed on Tuesday.

Discussing the matter before the Legislative Council’s security panel on Tuesday, deputy security minister Sonny Au Chi-kwong said cardholders would only have to place the new card onto a reader, instead of putting it into a machine as they do currently.

“That will be followed by fingerprint verification,” Au said. “The Immigration Department estimated the processing time could be down from 12 seconds to eight seconds.”

The new system uses built-in radio frequency identification (RFID) transmission technology to improve security and make the card quicker to read.

Legislators raised concerns that people could steal information from the new smart cards, by placing a card reader near the holder’s wallet. But Au said there were two different encrypted keys needed for the card to recognise an authorised reader and give up the data.

“Even though it is a wireless technology ... you must take out the card and put it on the authorised reader and pass through two different keys. So [the lawmakers] need not worry,” Au said.

He also dismissed criticism that the new card looks like a home return permit, the card which Hongkongers use to enter and exit the mainland.

10 questions about Hong Kong’s new identity card answered

“For example, there is a big bauhinia in the middle of the front of the card,” he said, referring to the flower which is a symbol of the city. “There is also a transparent window bearing the card number.”

The bureau revealed the design of the new smart identity card last Wednesday. To prevent counterfeiting, the new design has nine security features including an image of the Hong Kong skyline which shows up under UV light.

About 8.8 million existing cards will be replaced with new ones starting from the fourth quarter of next year. Smart card holders will be called up to have their cards replaced in phases in accordance with the year of their birth.

The Immigration Department will set up nine replacement centres across the city to hand over the new cards. The exercise will take four years to complete, officials said.

Cards issued between 2003 and 2007 will exceed their optimum 10-year serviceable lifespan by this year, meaning they will gradually become more susceptible to damage and malfunction.

Since the current identity card was issued from 2003, there were more than 64,000 cases of malfunctioning chips up to the end of 2014.