Firms launch security card coalition

Group will focus on promoting contact-less smart cards instead of those that are embedded with radio-frequency identification chips.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A group of firms that make identification cards and computer chips on Wednesday announced a new industry coalition to educate lawmakers on secure card technologies.

The Secure ID Coalition, which is comprised of Gemalto, Ifineon Technologies, Oberthur Card Systems, Royal Phillips Electronics and Texas Instruments, is aiming to promote the appropriate use of "smart card" technologies that allow digital security solutions for ID documents.

In a telephone interview, Tres Wiley, the director of e-documents at Texas Instruments, said similar industry groups are becoming too large and include so many different kinds of companies that they are no longer able to provide useful advice. The Secure ID Coalition will focus on promoting contact-less smart cards instead of those that are embedded with radio-frequency identification chips, which are readable from longer distances.

The coalition was unveiled at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting here.

Neville Pattison, the director of government affairs at Gemalto, said one of the group's primary goals will be to advertise the security benefits of smart cards over other technologies, including RFID.

Citizens are entitled to know whether RFID is in documents, and where and when their personal information can be read, according to a list of "citizen privacy rights" posted to the coalition's Web site.

"RFID as it is generally known is a palatable product," he said. "It is inappropriate in identity applications."

Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have introduced an amendment to a appropriations bill calling for the use of smart cards in a pending border security and travel initiative. The Homeland Security Department has supported cards embedded with RFID.

But Wiley said the coalition also will focus on state-level issues. He said he hopes the coalition's expertise will help prevent state lawmakers from prohibiting certain technologies and from implementing problematic technological solutions. Pending bills in California would outlaw the use or tracking tags in driver's licenses and school ID cards.

"You're going to see us continue to be active at the state level," he said. "We want to make sure state legislators don't enact bans out of fear and confusion."

James Sheire, a government relations manager at Phillips Semiconductors, said the coalition also will be active in states where lawmakers have established commissions to study ID card technologies. Lawmakers in New Hampshire earlier this year contemplated rejecting a federal law mandating nationwide standards for ID cards but instead elected to launch a study commission into the issue.

"We definitely intend to get into some of those state commissions and give them the advice we can," he said.