Smart cards gain momentum

Oman became the first Arab country to introduce a machine-read smart card with stored thumb-print, this week. Over 1.2 million smart cards are expected to be issued in Oman alone, while the UAE government expects to issue 2 million Java-based smart cards in 2004.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  January 7, 2004

Oman became the first Arab country to introduce a machine-read smart card with stored thumb-print. The country's first ID card 00000001 was issued to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos's with his picture‚ date and place of birth, signature on the card. Under the new Civil Status law, every citizen would be provided with a machine-read smart card, which will store thumbprint and serve as a personal identity for Omani nationals as well as expatriates in the country. The scheme involves 1.2 million cards being issued. The ID card is compulsory for citizens older than 15 and residents working in the public and private sectors and their family members above 15 years of age. The smart cards solution is based on Gemplus' ResIDent technology, which one of the world's leading provider of smart card-enabled solutions. Essentially the smart card has an inbuilt electronic chip with embedded software, which contains the name, signature, photo and other details, like the card holder’s civil number, civil register data, passport number, marital status, address and driving license. The Civil Status department said the new cards would be issued only in Muscat, for the initial phase. According to officials once the Smart ID card system is implemented, Oman residents can travel in and out of the country without any paperwork or passport processing. Officials added that the multi-purpose card would serve as an identity card, driving license, for bank dealings, border outlets and eventually phase out labor cards which are issued by the Ministry of Manpower. The UAE Ministry of Interior is also working on a similar smart-card project expected to be operational by mid-2004 where over 2 million Java cards would be issued to the UAE residents. Sagem, a biometrics-based ID systems integrator and Gemplus it’s sub-contractor, which provides the smart cards, software and services is developing the project. Privacy and identity management issues are still not clear, while the government and vendor are assuring citizens that the secure technology embedded in the cards will safe guard citizens. Till recently most smart cards were used by large enterprises for internal security but since 2002, the government has become the biggest adopter in providing smart card technology to citizens. According to Dow Jones, more than 800 million smart cards would be issued in China alone by 2006, over shadowing the 30 million plus smart cards used in Europe.

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