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Government wants your view on smart cards

A new government proposal examines how smart card technology could improve the delivery of public services. But would they differ from controversial ID cards?

The government on Thursday launched draft proposals for the introduction of smart cards as a way of pushing its electronic government agenda.

The proposals, which are open to public consultation, examine how the public sector could implement smart card technology and the likely challenges that need to be overcome.

According to the government's report, smart cards could be used to authenticate people who want to access government services online or engage in e-commerce. Other applications include buying school meals, allowing access to leisure facilities or storing personal health records.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman told ZDNet UK that the smart card work was not related to the Home Office's work on entitlement or ID cards.

"The two schemes are entirely separate. Our smart card consultation addresses any smart card scheme within the public sector, while Home Office is just looking at the one issue of an identity card," she said.

Last year, the Home Office launched a consultation on the introduction of entitlement cards, which could be required for accessing government services. Thousands of people opposed the introduction of entitlement cards, fearing that they were effectively ID cards that would infringe on personal privacy. Despite opposition from civil liberties groups, the government is expected to push for the introduction of an entitlement card this autumn.

The Cabinet Office spokeswoman added that the subject was still at the consultation stage.

The tone of Thursday's announcement, though, indicates that there is plenty of enthusiasm within government for the introduction of smart cards.

“Smart cards have the potential to increase take-up of government services by business and citizens alike, by allowing the customer to interact with government at a time and place of their choosing," said Douglas Alexander, minister for e-transformation at the Cabinet Office, in the statement.

"Additionally, promoting the use of smart cards encourages a joined-up attitude to service delivery across government and opens up the possibility of partnership with the private sector," Alexander said.

As well as the stereotypical credit card-like smart cards, the government is looking at using mobile phone SIM cards, or even USB storage devices, as smart cards.

The consultation on the government's proposals will run for three months. The full report is available here.