State readies smart card roll out

The State Department will begin distributing 20,000 "smart" cards to employees in October for entry to the department's offices in the United States.

The department will replace its machine-read picture identification cards with smart card technology developed by Datakey Inc.

The new card carries a digital picture of the employee and a chip that can authorize access to as many as 40 buildings in the United States and to specific secure areas, according to Lolie Kull, the access control smart card implementation manager for the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

But more importantly, the smart card is likely to serve as a prototype for the government's attempts to authorize access and limit it when necessary.

"The advantage of smart cards is that it gives us much more than a visual ID," Kull said. "It gives us [public-key infrastructure] and ID authentication. It can also hold emergency medical information and other applications such as access to a motor pool."

The card does not contain biometric information, such as fingerprints or eye scans, but these security components are likely to be added to the card's chip, which has a 32K memory, according to Kull.

The State Department has been "following a very sound plan for deploying the card and updating the infrastructure as they do so. They can manage the existing card and the new card for the transition period," said Randy Vanderhoof, president and chief executive officer of the Smart Card Alliance.

State is working with the Transportation Department's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to provide engineering and technical support to make the system work. Other federal agencies can tap into the same blueprint.

To use the card, a person must swipe it through a machine and enter a personal identification number. The employee must swipe the card again upon leaving the building, and the system thus provides entry and exit data on every person going in and out of a building.

State's program will first provide smart cards to workers in the Washington, D.C., area and then fan out across the country. Even Secretary Colin Powell carries a smart card, although he relies on staff to get him in the door of the department's headquarters, Kull said.

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