IDG News Service - WASHINGTON -- Imagine a so-called smart card that contained your U.S. government-checked identity, complete with biometric identifiers, plus your three credit-card accounts, your check card account, possibly even your health records.
Such a card, containing a small chip that could store kilobytes of data, could let you zoom through the toll stations on your local highway, act as a passport when you cross international borders and contain your passwords to a number of e-commerce Web sites. If this sounds a little far-fetched, it is, at least at the moment.
But advocates of government-mandated smart cards envisioned multiple uses for a small piece of plastic in the name of protecting the U.S. from illegal aliens and terrorists during a discussion in Washington yesterday.
Many privacy advocates have protested proposals to create a national identification card, saying a card could be used to track U.S. residents and amass databases full of information.
Backers of the Real ID Act, passed by Congress in May, are careful to say it doesn't create a national ID, but it would set up some minimum standards that states must follow in order for their driver's licenses to remain valid federal identification.
In passing the Real ID Act, Congress did not intend to create a series of hard-to-comply-with rules, but to encourage minimum standards for states to verify the identities of driver's license holders, said U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican. "We weren't trying to carve out artificially high standards," said Davis, speaking at a biometrics policy forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank. "This is not an unfunded mandate [to states]."
Even Davis' call for moderate standards didn't stop other backers of nationally used smart ID cards from dreaming of a wide number of uses for a card with machine readable memory capacity. There could be some privacy risks if smart ID cards are implemented badly, but smart card technology holds much promise, said Paul Rosenzweig, senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Regulations attached to the Real ID Act could allow a variety of commercial uses, including a link to credit cards or check cards, Rosenzweig said. "The start-up cost borne by the government will be the seed money for commercial enterprise," he predicted of smart cards.
The Real ID Act, passed as part of a defense and antiterrorism funding bill, mandates that states require several forms of verifiable identification before issuing driver's licenses. States can decide not to comply with the law, but then their driver's licenses could not
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