Smart card of a different stripe: optical

Putting smart cards to work as governmentwide credentials as well as for building and system access is a long-term goal'and a moving target.

This week, the General Accounting Office's Joel C. Willemssen told a House Government Reform subcommittee that smart cards with laser-readable optical stripe memory, similar to compact disk technology, can store far more information than current smart cards.

Willemssen suggested to the Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census subcommittee that the optical stripes could store 'photos, multiple fingerprints and other digitized images' and would be very difficult to counterfeit. (Click to link to PDF of prepared testimony)

The military services and other card-using agencies have adopted various combinations of cards with readers or contactless (radio antenna) cards bearing photos, bar codes and magnetic stripes. But the Office of Management and Budget in July said widespread interoperability is impossible without a common policy, governmentwide acquisition contract and shared service providers.

'GSA and OMB still have much work to do before common credentialing systems' can succeed, said Willemssen, GAO's managing director for IT issues.

The Transportation Security Administration's identity card for up to 15 million transportation workers, the largest federal card project so far, is supposed to be flexible enough to support future technologies, Willemssen said.

The Defense Department's next-generation Common Access Card will accommodate biometric identifiers and digital certificates. A contactless chip could be added to the card for faster building access, Willemssen said. But CAC costs have run more than double the original estimates, he added, and building security officers prefer their existing badge systems.

GAO recommended that the National Institute of Standards and Technology continue working on its smart card interoperability specification to include optical stripe media, biometrics and other advances.

Optical stripe smart cards, which currently can store up to 5M, are not yet rewritable like CD media for PCs. Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., has estimated each optical card will cost more than 10 times as much as a magnetic stripe credit card or integrated circuit card.

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