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The Good and Bad Sides of Smart Cards

written by: Tony J Palazzo•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 6/30/2010

As with all information technology, the smart card is a double-edged sword containing inherent properties that some view as a cause for concern. But does the bad actually outweigh the good? Let's take a look at smart card technology pros and cons.

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    Smart Cards: The Pro Side

    One of the most basic benefits smart cards offer is convenience. Consider the simple transaction of paying road tolls. Without any technology involved, a traveller is required to bring his or her car to a complete halt, possibly wait in a line, and proceed to a booth to hand a ticket to the attendant who needs to verify the amount of the toll, collect cash from the driver, provide change if necessary, and allow the driver to proceed.

    A smart card, particularly a contactless smart card that uses radio frequencies, doesn’t require the driver to stop, or in some states, even slow down.

    Security is another big advantage. In government offices or similar buildings in need of high security, unauthorized access is curtailed by requiring identification at points of entry. This keeps information, property, and lives safer from potential intrusions.

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    The Con Side

    Smart Card Technology Pros and Cons: IC Chip Smart cards are small and light, which makes them conveneintly portable, but it also makes them susceptible to loss and theft. If a card is mishandled or misplaced, the technologies that provide security and convenience can instantly become a source of vulnerability and expense. In the case of building access, for example, if a card is lost and not reported, it can increase the chances of a security breach.

    A far greater issue, however is privacy. Leaving a trail of digital tracks using separate cards for distinct purposes is of little consequence to the majority of people in most cases. A person may use one type of card to access public transportation, a key card to enter a building, a credit card for purchases, another for network authentication, and a health insurance identification card with access to electronic medical records.

    For privacy advocates, the big problem begins with the idea of compiling all of an individual's personal records into one central database and using a single, universal smart card for all electronic transactions that require authentication. Consider the immigration reform proposal, which calls for the creation of a biometric, mandatory national ID card. Although it is intended not to include any personal information, a national ID smart card, in the wake of the Real ID Act of 2005, would set a precedent that privacy organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are staunchly against.

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    Smart Card Technology Pros And Cons: Kiev metro RFID card As with any system dealing directly with personal information and assets, defining smart card technology pros and cons is a matter of determining benefits and risks. Specifically, the benefits are improvements in efficiency, convenience, and security. The risks are in the loss of personal privacy and control of sensitive information, and the potential for the misuse of information. As the use of smart cards becomes more prevalent over time, weighing the good aspects against the bad remains an ongoing process.

    For further information, the Bright Hub article Understanding the Different Types of Smart Cards discusses the main technological and functional differences of smart cards.

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    All images used in this article are in the public domain.