Despite assurances from the government, lawmakers still have serious doubts over the security of the new Hong Kong identity cards set to be launched in 2018.
Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who represents the legal sector, and Charles Peter Mok, from the IT sector, voiced concern that the smart card could be vulnerable to data theft through remote means, Ming Pao Daily reported Wednesday.
They urged the government to unveil the card’s specifications, particularly its security features, so that independent experts could analyze them to ease public anxiety.
Most of the concerns expressed by the legislators centered on the card’s use of radio frequency identification (RFID) transmission technology.
Although the technology was chosen to improve the card’s security and speed up data retrieval, some observers say it allows hackers to steal data from the card from a distance.
Data security has been a major concern in many countries. According to a BBC report last month, a clothing product jointly developed by anti-virus software maker Norton and fashion designer Betabrand features metal fibers that can block RFID signals.
Legislators also warned that police could take advantage of the RFID technology to monitor the movements of pro-democracy activists and prevent them from entering Macau or the mainland, Apple Daily reported.
Kwok said the police department should assure citizens that the new smart ID cards will not be used for surveillance.
Undersecretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the new ID card has a two-step security feature, including an encryption key, as against one layer of security in the existing HKID card.
The chips embedded in the card can only be read by devices within a range of two centimeters, Lee added.
He said replacement of existing cards has become necessary as their normal lifespan is only 10 years and they were launched in 2003.
Cheng Lee-ming, associate professor at the Department of Electronic Engineering at the City University of Hong Kong, said the new ID cards are equipped with wireless data transmission technology and an encryption system that are both more complicated than those used in existing cards, adding that personal data could only be at risk if the decoders used by the authorities are stolen.
The government expects to spend about HK$2.9 billion (US$373.98 million) to replace more than eight million HKID cards by 2022.
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