I recently went to a conference on e-governance and digital identity where, as usual, the various organisations (manufacturers of smart cards) emphasised the importance of smart cards as a crucial tool for authenticating and authorising citizens to take advantage of various government-sponsored programmes.
According to my knowledge, there are several justifications for the smart card theory:
- Since network accessibility is a major problem in isolated areas, the smart card offers safe identification in offline mode.
- Smart Cards are unclonable.
- Additionally, smart cards can be used to store biometric templates for offline one-to-one authentication.
- Smart cards serve as identity cards as well, storing a person’s optical identifying data.
But building infrastructure that includes Smart Cards, printers, cartridges, encoders, issuance and re-issuance processes comes at a significant expense. Even with a modest estimate, all of this would cost USD 5 billion for a nation with more than a billion residents, and there would also be ongoing expenses. Furthermore, they are all non-biodegradable, which adds significantly to the amount of electronic waste.
Why do we really need smart cards when a country like India has implemented the largest biometrics project in the world (Aadhar)? The only thing we want is a standard identity card made of paper with a barcode or QR code that can be used to identify a person and then authenticate them online using a biometric scanner (1 to 1 authentication). Perhaps if network connectivity is a problem in some locations, a straightforward embedded device can store the biometric credentials for a whole district or even an entire city. Consequently, the creation of smart cards as national identity cards is now more of a legacy issue than a technological requirement.