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Smartening up
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 21 - 04 - 2005

With smart card applications ready to roll out in Egypt, various entities aspire for the development of a smarter society. Sherine El-Madany reports
Smart cards will make people's lives easier as well as bridge the digital divide with the rest of the world by bringing modern technology to a broad spectrum of society, agreed guest speakers at the Third Middle East and Africa Card Technology (Card-Ex) Exhibition and Conference last week.
"The deployment of smart cards in Egypt will conquer bureaucracy, and thus, increase investment and empower the society," said Tareq Kamel, minister of communications and information technology.
Smart cards are small devices with an embedded computer chip which offer a host of services including e-government, e-payment, healthcare, transportation, social insurance, telecommunications, and security access systems. The computer chip within the card enables the storage of huge amounts of information, while significantly reducing the risk of fraud.
Organised by Giesecke & Devrient (G&D) Egypt, Card-Ex sought to increase awareness of the benefits of smart cards, coming at a time when Egypt is moving towards greater e- government implementation. G&D is based in Munich, Germany, and offers marketing, sales, technical support and application development for smart card products in the Middle East and North Africa.
The National ID project, which started a few years ago, is one of the smart card applications targeting the welfare of Egyptians, such as the food subsidy smart card currently being utilised in Suez. In addition, smart card technologies can offer e-passports that contain the bearer's personal information, photograph, fingerprints and other details encoded into the chip -- therefore diminishing the threat of fraud and providing greater security at border controls. Smart cards can also be used in the transportation sector, such as in parking lots or bus and rail stations.
Moreover, several banks in Egypt and the Arab world have moved to chip-based credit and debit cards enabling smart card holders to manage on/ offline transactions by using interchange portable terminals. Banks that have not adopted Europay, MasterCard, and Visa (EMV) standards for chip-based bank cards by the end of this year will be legally liable for losses attributed to fraudulent transactions. These standards aim at reducing the fraud costs associated with counterfeit cards and providing authorised offline payment transactions. Another e-payment application allows employees to receive their monthly salaries using smart cards, a process already implemented in 12 governmental institutions across the country.
Moreover, smart chip technology promises to revolutionise healthcare, as a patient's medical data can all be electronically stored on the card. "Medical history, insurance information, and emergency contact information will be immediately accessible through terminals installed in hospitals, emergency rooms, and ambulances," explained Mustafa Samaha, G&D Egypt's managing director. "This will be invaluable in situations where seconds count," he added.
Speakers also emphasised the importance of implementing common Arab standards for smart card applications so that time and costs can be reduced. "Adoption of a common standard will spread costs between providers," Samaha clarified.
Raising public awareness of the benefits of smart card technologies was a key recommendation of the exhibition and conference. "This could be done by establishing an effective NGO that launches awareness campaigns and successfully employs the use of smart cards in Egypt," suggested Kamel.

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