Upon attending a conference on e-governance and digital identity, we’ve learned that a lot of companies, particularly Smart Card manufacturers, seemed to parrot the idea that smart cards were an essential part of e-governance. Particularly, they intended to get involved in several government-subsidized projects for authentication and authorization for citizens. This raises the question, are smart cards really required, especially in the context of e-governance? Let’s discuss.
Several arguments in favor of smart cards were thrown around at the conference. The notable ones included –
In remote or rural areas, you’re more likely to be off the grid and therefore won’t have the connectivity to support online authentication. Therefore, a smart card can act as a workaround and provide offline authentication, securely for a citizen. Therefore, smart cards can pave the path for rural e-governance.
Another benefit of smart cards is that they are extremely difficult to clone, and therefore, is a sure-fire way of authenticating a citizen without worrying about frauds and fakes.
In addition to smart chips for online authentication, smart cards can carry biometric information to facilitate offline 1 to 1 authentication. This ensures that a single card maps to a single person containing their biometric information, and provides secure offline verification.
Pictures and other visual information can be printed onto a Smart Card for visual identification information about the person.
Although these are some great advantages in favor of smart cards, they come at the cost of high-maintenance and infrastructure. The high costs associated with smart cards come from the following expenses –
In the context of India, a country with more than a billion people, the cost of providing smart cards to the entire population would be monumental. In addition to the initial costs of preparing and issuing the cards, there are additional recurring costs to consider as well in terms of maintenance and re-issuance. Finally, the smart cards are not biodegradable – therefore, they contribute to an ever-growing problem of electronic waste.
You can find a converse, but practical example in Aadhar, India’s biggest biometrics project for authentication. Here, without the need for a smart card, one can identify a person online by scanning the barcode or QR code. From there, using a biometric scanner, confirm the identity of the person to facilitate 1 to 1 authentication. Furthermore, even in remote areas with connectivity issues, there are options to station a simple embedded device to carry out the authentication and verification of everyone in the area. This device can support the populace of a small district or city.
With these in mind, there really isn’t a need for nation-wide smart cards – simpler, more cost-effective solutions are already in place for e-governance and citizen authentication.