US agencies tap ActivIdentity smart cards

Government deadline for using new identity cards is nearing

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have chosen a smart-card authentication product from ActivIdentity Corp. as the U.S. government faces a deadline for using new identity cards.

The DOD's U.S. Army and Air Force have chosen ActivIdentity's desktop software package ActivClient 6.0 to authenticate holders of current and next-generation DOD smart cards as they log into DOD computers and networks, ActivIdentity announced Tuesday. The military branches will use ActivClient to comply with U.S. President George Bush's Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12), which requires U.S. agencies to begin issuing biometric-based smart cards by Friday.

ActivIdentity didn't disclose the value of the DOD contract, but company officials said the five-year agreement was awarded through the U.S. Government Services Administration in concert with systems integrator Electronic Data Systems Corp. The contract will provide smart-card access to all of the DOD's 3.5 million military members and contractors, ActivIdentity said.

ActivIdentity has worked with the DOD on smart-card deployments for about five years, but the new contract shows the company's continued leadership in the evolution of smart cards, said Jason Hart, ActivIdentity's chief executive officer.

Friday's deadline is the just start of an evolution of smart-card use in government, Hart said. The deadline requires agencies simply to begin issuing biometric smart cards, but the cards have potential beyond being used for physical access to buildings and access to computers, he said. Eventually, agencies may look at using the smart cards to encrypt e-mail and information stored on computers, to verify the identity of e-mail senders, even to make purchases or access government health benefits, he predicted.

"We think it's just the start," he said of Friday's deadline. "It's the next two years where you're going to see the bulk of work being done."

The TSA contract also uses ActivClient 6.0 to redesign and develop smart-card ID badges for security workers, including airport screeners. The contract, through systems integrator Apptis Inc., calls for new smart ID cards for all of approximately 70,000 TSA employees and contractors, ActivIdentity said.

ActivIdentity's encrypted card upgrade capabilities, available to be done in the background on users' PCs, and its ability to issue cards while workers wait appealed to the TSA, Hart said. "They can upgrade the card in the field," he said.

Hart predicted the U.S. government's move to biometric smart cards will spur the use of smart cards in private industry as well. Smart cards that combine credit or debit card functions, computer encryption, e-mail user authentication and other functions will become common in the next five years or so, he predicted.

"It's inevitable," he said. "What we're seeing is an evolution of ID."

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