Smart Cards

Smart Cards

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay about electronic identification cards, with expanded personal information. Written for INF 103: Computer Literacy.


Smart Cards



Smart cards are identification cards that contain more personal information than conventional identification cards because smart cards include electronic chips that contain special information such as "fingerprints or retina scans" (Gross, 2005, para. 10), as well as "credit card accounts, your check card account, and possibly even your health records" (Gross, 2005, para. 1).  They are commonly in use in school IDs now, as well as some key cards and bank cards, but we don't usually call these limited-use cards smart cards.  Smart cards "use single cards ... to bundle different services and with them authentication systems created to support them" (Schwartz, 1998, para. 6).

Smart cards have economic and privacy benefits.  Economic benefits include being able to digitally sign documents and to "automate payment functions" (Ham and Atkinson, 2002, para. 3).  An advantage to this would be "the reduction in fraud that leads to the 'hidden tax' we all pay through higher credit card interest rates" (Ham and Atkinson, 2002, para. 3), because the smart card would improve the identification of card users.

Some privacy benefits of smart cards include using thumb prints, instead of passwords, to access information, because thumb prints cannot be stolen as easily as passwords.  "Smart cards also make it easier to create a digital paper trail on government employees who access your data" (Ham and Atkinson, 2002, para. 4).  In addition, smart cards can reduce identity fraud because "[e]ven if a thief were able to copy the information on a passport's smart card, he wouldn't be able to change it because the information will be encrypted ... [t]he encrypted photograph on the smart card wouldn't match the thief's face if he tried to use it to cross a border" (Gross, 2006, para. 5).

Some smart cards combine economic and privacy benefits, "such as a student ID on a university campus which allows access into buildings, pays for meals and serves as a library card" (Schwartz, 1998, para. 3).  "[S]mart ID cards may even reduce racial profiling. Airlines, for instance, could have expedited security procedures for frequent fliers that rely on smart ID cards; an individual who might otherwise be singled out for additional security screening due to race could avoid that with a smart ID card" (Ham and Atkinson, 2002, para. 9).  This has both economic benefits for the airlines and personal benefits for the card holder.

There are also privacy concerns surrounding smart cards.  One of the prime concerns is that "giving someone the key to your car ... would be in effect giving them the key to your life" (Schwartz, 1998, para. 10).  Once a person gains access to another person's smart card, the concern is that the new person gains access to the card owner's personal information, financial data, and keys to any vehicles or buildings the card owner has access to.  The answer to this concern, however, is that "[w]hile smart cards, by themselves, are privacy-neutral, their on-card intelligence uniquely enables systems that use them to comply with many of the recommended privacy guidelines" (Privacy and Secure Identification Systems, 2003, para. 7).

According to Nancy Libin of the Center for Democracy and Technology, "smart cards are not foolproof. For example, fingerprints could be digitally copied and duplicated ... [and] [u]nlike passwords, biometrics aren't secret, and they cannot be easily modified ... [o]nce that biometric has been ... compromised, it's done. It cannot be reissued, it's finished" (Gross, 2005, paras. 19-20).

I am in favor of the use of smart card technology.  When my sons were in an elementary school in southern Illinois last year, they were required to wear smart ID badges with their photographs and fingerprints, which were used for attendance records, breakfast and lunch accounts in the school cafeteria, and for library and computer lab usage.  Having all of my information in one card, which would be "accepted as federal ID, required for activities such as boarding commercial airplanes" (Gross, 2005, para. 9) would be very convenient.  If a smart card could replace a house key, a car key, a driver's license, a bank card, and a library card, I would not have to carry several keys and cards that are easy to misplace; I could keep one card that would be much easier to keep track of.

Recently, I took my children to an identification clinic where their personal information, details of custody, digital fingerprints, still photographs, and audio and video recordings were placed on computer CDs.  They also received traditional photo ID cards.  If we were able to use smart cards, all of the information could be placed on the cards, which would make it more efficient for the police to find the children if anything should happen.



Gross, G.  (2005, September 14).  Smart ID Cards Debated.  Retrieved March 21, 2010, from 

--.  (2006, August 16).  Privacy not a problem, say smart-card vendors.  Retrieved March         21, 2010, from                               Privacy_not_a_problem_say_smart_card_vendors

Ham, S. and Atkinson, R.D.  (2002, January 18).  Frequently Asked Questions about Smart ID         Cards.  Retrieved March 21, 2010, from          250075

Privacy and Secure Identification Systems White Paper.  (2003, February).  Retrieved March 21,          2010, from

Schwartz, A.  (2007, March 21).  Smart Cards at the Crossroads: Authenticator or Privacy Invader?.  Retrieved March 21, 2010, from http://opt-

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism welcome.

My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, smart card, identification, identity, technology, information

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..