Roll-out of smart cards for federal workers begins

Cards will carry digital records of fingerprints, ID number and digital certificates.

The government begins issuing a new identification card tomorrow, The Washington Post's Stephen Barr reports. And in the years to come all government workers will use a "smart card" to verify their identity when they enter a building or log onto computer networks.

The cards will have an electronic chip containing personal data, such as images from two fingerprints, a special identification number and digital certificates that permit access to places and systems.

Issuing the cards and upgrading equipment to read them will probably take three to five years, said Karen Evans , the administrator for electronic government and technology at the Office of Management and Budget. The ambitious effort, she said, will improve national security and ensure "that we give access to who we should."

Naturally privacy and employees groups have serious concerns about whether the cards are safe or too intrusive.

Evans said personal data on government employees and contractors would not be compiled in one vast database. However, it seems likely that some large records-keeping systems will be created or expanded with the advent of the new card.

The number of cards that will eventually be distributed will be in the millions but it's hard to come with an exact tally. The Defense Department, for example, has 3.2 million "common access cards" in circulation and will replace them as they expire -- a five-year project that includes deployment of new software.

Officials at the Office of Management and Budget hope to see the cards roll out tomorrow in cities with large numbers of federal employees, such as Washington, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle and New York. OMB has asked agencies to send in a photocopy of a card they have issued, with appropriate privacy redactions, so that the White House knows they have put a smart-card program in place.

The General Services Administration and the Interior Department are issuing the smart cards on behalf of numerous agencies and departments. Some, such as Defense and the Social Security Administration, will run their own card programs.

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