Originally created 03/10/02

Malaysia digital ID card slow to take off



KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- The Malaysian government touts its new smart ID card with a litany of boastful slogans, like "Highly secure," "Single card, multiple solutions" and "Incredible transformation."

But the vast majority of Malaysia's 23 million people are unaware of the new card - dubbed MyKad - or don't know how it functions.

Take, for example, driving license data stored in the card's microchip. The card is supposed to obviate the need for drivers to carry separate license and identification documents.

Someone needs to tell the cops. Local media have reported policemen fining motorists who whip out a MyKad instead of driver's license, because the officers don't have a scanner to read the card.

"This is still the two-year pilot stage," acknowledges Mohamad Ariffin Ismail, director of the Multipurpose Card Project. "We want to help Malaysians leap into the IT (information technology) age. This card will be the tool."

About 1.2 million MyKads have been issued since the card's September launch. Eventually, they will replace the regular IDs required for all Malaysians once they reach age 12.

The government expects MyKad to completely replace current IDs in five years.

A 32-kilobyte microchip embedded in the MyKad holds the name, address, ID number, digital thumbprint and photograph of the owner, as well as driving license data and passport information.

Officials say it will eventually contain medical information, facilitate e-cash transactions and enable users to conduct secure Internet transactions.

The card contains open data - like the details on regular IDs - and restricted data that cannot be accessed without thumbprint verification.

Mohamad takes pride in this Southeast Asian nation being the first to introduce a multipurpose smart card. He downplays debate in the West that such a card can turn into Big Brother in your pocket.

"There must be a trade-off somewhere, you know, between freedom, and freedom to allow all these guys moving around with bombs," Mohamad said, alluding to terrorist fears. "You want freedom. But, you also want security."