Work progresses on contactless interoperability

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Government agencies continue to pursue smart card interoperability for both contact cards and, more recently, the contactless variety.

"It's been the interoperability problem that has slowed down the deployment of smart cards," said Jim Dray, smart card researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and principal scientist for the Government Smart Card program. "Once we get those problems solved and get things rolling, all the different versions of the smart card family will flourish."

NIST, the General Services Administration, contractors and other agencies are working toward that goal.

Contactless interoperability is the subject of an appendix to the Government Smart Card Interoperability Specification Version 2.1, which was published in July.

Dray said the specification addresses the interoperability of contactless cards at a fairly simple level. "We hope that as contactless technology progresses we can...provide a much richer set of functionality for contactless cards."

At present, the standard specifies that contactless cards must include a Security Equipment Integration Working Group string, Dray said. That is a specification for information encoded on a physical access control card. The government specification also states that contactless cards must conform to the International Standards Organization for Standardization's 14443 specification for 13.56 MHz contactless technology.

Dray pointed out that NIST's Interagency report is a technical white paper, not a formal standard. The smart card interoperability specifications, however, will be submitted to the American National Standards Institute and, subsequently, to ISO.

Meanwhile, the specification provides "a stake in the ground for contactless interoperability," Dray said.

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