Canada’s CIO: Smart cards don’t fit in GOL

TORONTO — Technology and acceptance issues are keeping smart cards out of the Government On-Line project, according to Canada’s chief information officer.

Opportunities for introducing multiple application smart cards exist in

many government departments, Michelle D’Auray told a seminar on smart cards Wednesday. The government is planning to introduce a number of smart card initiatives including a passport/visa waiver card, a permanent resident card and a firearm registration card.

The projects are still stuck in a pilot stage however, she said, in part because interoperability issues, security concerns and lack of public confidence in the technology are keeping them at bay.

“”We don’t have a smart card policy, actually,”” D’Auray laughed. “” Our smart card strategy is trying to get to a smart card strategy.””

Interoperability is a particular stumbling block, D’Auray said, pointing out that all of the government’s current smart card initiatives are using different technology platforms. This just adds to the organizational woes that have plagued Government On-Line (GOL) from the beginning, she said.

“”As in an enterprise, getting people to agree that they have anything in common is difficult,”” she said. “”Integrating services across Canada is challenging, integrating across jurisdictions is a fascinating task.””

Smart card industry adherence to common standards and open systems would be a big help, she added.

Standardizing technology and furthering the development of globally compatible smart card specifications is a key aim for GlobalPlatform, a three-year-old not-for-profit cross-industry international business organization. Its 56 global members include American Express Co., IBM Global Services-Americas, Sun Microstystems Inc., Visa International and the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Steve Brown, GlobalPlatform’s chairman and the head of business development (Messaging and Security) for British Telecom Ignite, said the organization is producing multi application smart card specifications which are fast becoming a de facto standard, he said.

“”Our goal is not to further proprietary operating systems but to define and promote cross-industry interoperability,”” Brown said. “” To the best of my knowledge, we’re the only organization working on this, on developing an open and interoperable system.””

The organization is working on systems that will allow portability of applications across any chip cards, standardized smart card management systems, and compatibility with any technology platform, said GlobalPlatform technical director Marc Kekicheff.

“” Microsoft is no longer investing in Windows technology for smart cards, so we’re mostly using Java cards, but we’re not excluding any programming language,”” he said.

The GlobalPlatform specifications can lead the smart card industry to a point where cards with generic pre-and-post issuance, flexible levels of security and customizable management systems are the norm, he said.

“”Every application can live on the card as if it was there alone, safe behind its own firewall and doesn’t need to know there are other applications on the card,”” he explained. “”Until it needs to interact with them, and then it’s just a simple matter of adding an interface that will allow that to happen.

“”Our challenge is doing this without making the card a huge monster,”” Kekicheff added.

The monster card can be avoided by limiting what is put on one piece of plastic, says Brown, and accepting that we may have more than one card in our wallets after all.

“”I’m a believer in life-style cards,”” he says, “”in having a few cards that do different things. I don’t think we’re ever going to get to one piece of white plastic that does everything for you.””

Technology is continually evolving and as it does it will make more and more financial sense for enterprises to adopt it, he said.

The outlook on customer acceptance — though still an issue at the moment — may not be as bleak as it seems either, said D’Auray. She pointed out that while a recent government survey reported little public interest in online government services 2.5 million Canadians filed their taxes online last year. They may have been motivated by the quicker tax return e-filing brought, she said.

“”This is a huge shift in culture, so there’s a huge education process to be undertaken,”” she said. “”But if there is a direct benefit to the citizens, they will leap over their concerns.””

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