April 23, 2002 4:40 PM PDT

How "smart" is your ID card?

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Allies of "smart cards"--credit cards or ID cards with small computer processors--are improving the technology in hopes of hastening their broader use.

Smart cards offer advantages such as better security to identify their carriers and incentives to keep customers coming back to the same store, but getting consumers and companies to switch to the new technology has been an uphill struggle. Tuesday at the CardTech/SecurTech conference in New Orleans, advocates announced a host of improvements.

SchlumbergerSema, a Schlumberger business unit that makes and sells smart cards, introduced ICitizen, a new smart card with features such as security and counterfeiting resistance. It also has large storage capacity for recording data such as fingerprints or other biometric data, driver's license numbers, health data and digital signatures, the company said. The encrypted data can be protected with simple personal identification numbers or more complicated biometric data.

The SchlumbergerSema card can also run programs written in Java Card, Sun Microsystems' version of Java software for smart cards.

Sun, meanwhile, introduced version 2.2 of the Java Card technology. Java Card lets programs written to its specifications run on many different smart cards, regardless of what processor the card uses. Java allows smart cards to run programs for encryption, authentication of fingerprints, and other tasks.

The new version of Java Card allows better control over how the cards use memory. It also offers improvements for tapping into wireless communication standards such as the Wireless Application Protocol and for better debugging tools to make writing programs easier, Sun said.

Visa, another company at the conference, said it will offer centralized services to help card issuers and their merchant business partners try to keep customers returning. Four banks--First USA, FleetBoston, Providian and Retailers National Bank--have issued more than 10 million Visa smart cards so far, Visa said.

MasterCard, meanwhile, announced its published specifications for the MasterCard Open Data Storage interface, which allows its banking partners to offer customers better management of personal information stored on the card. That information can include shipping addresses, phone numbers, username-password combinations, and receipts, MasterCard said.

MasterCard's smart card strategy supports the Java Card software as well as the Multos smart card operating system.

 

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