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The tech behind Hon Kong’s Smart IDs

Image Credits: HKSAR Immigration Department, Website

The new Smart Identity Card, which was introduced in November 2018, have security features, card durability, as well as chip technology on personal data protection, has been enhanced.

The territory-wide Identity Card Replacement Exercise commenced in December 2018. All smart Hong Kong identity cardholders were invited by phases, i.e., the call-up programme, to have their existing smart HKICs replaced at the dedicated smart identity card replacement centres.

The new smart identity cards support a contactless chip interface, which enables the performance of immigration clearance through e-channels without the insertion of the identity card.

Simply placing the new identity card on the top-left corner of an e-Channel’s document reader with the photo face-down allows for the reading process to be completed. After this, the new smart identity card can be removed and then the e-Channel fingerprint verification can proceed.

To combat forgery, the new smart identity card has incorporated a number of sophisticated security features including:

  1. Hologram with Wave and 3D Effect: when viewed from different angles, the image changes its colour with a wave and 3D relief effect.
  2. Tactile Relief: a positive tactile effect which can be felt easily by finger.
  • Ink with optically variable properties: the ink displays two distinct colours depending on the angle the card is being viewed from.
  1. Rainbow printing: rainbow printing is a combination of two colours changing gradually from left to right.
  2. See-through window: this is the intersected area between front and back opening, with Hong Kong Identity Card number laser engraved on different layers of the see-through window.
  3. Multi-pattern background: the multi-pattern background includes fine-line patterns and guilloche.
  • Stereo Laser Image with portrait: the inclusion of a portrait of a second smaller photograph of the cardholder by the patent security feature of “Stereo Laser Image”.
  • Full-colour Image under UV: when the back of the new smart identity card is illuminated under UV light, a full-colour image of fireworks in Hong Kong and major buildings will come into view.
  1. Microprinted text: very small text which requires a magnifying glass to read.

The need to transition has become apparent with the optimum 10-year serviceable lifespan of the existing cards expiring in 2017. This means that the old cards will gradually become more susceptible to damage and malfunction.

The new system addresses the obsolescence of hardware and software of the existing system to preclude having a large number of damaged cards in circulation. It also improves durability and upgrades the chip technology.

The smart card can be used to access the public library card service, leisure facilities bookings, the online health record sharing system and the subsidised e-health system.

As suggested by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau as well as the Food and Health Bureau, the card also includes digital photograph and gender to facilitate facial recognition and avoid entry error.

Immigration staff, police officers, labour inspectors, principal government officials, lawmakers and Executive Council members will replace the cards first to allow them to get familiar with the new smart cards for the execution of their duties and to help in the review of the workflow and operations.

Other smart cardholders will then be called up to have their cards replaced by phases according to year of birth.

The most recent call was for Hongkongers born in 1955 or 1956, who are to apply for new smart identity cards at a Smart Identity Card Replacement Centre from between 24 September and 15 November 2019, the Immigration Department announced.

The issuance of the new smart cards, which has been ongoing over the last two years, is in alignment with the region’s Smart City goals, namely to encourage open data in public and private sectors, improve public services through adoption of technology under a data-driven approach, and review legislation and regulations to support innovation.


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