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The Varsity
(University of Toronto)
Monday, September 8,1997
vol.118 no.5

SmartCard hits campus

and sends shock waves

by Mike Bozak

A new high-tech card has surfaced at the University of Toronto which could revolutionize the way things are done on campus.

Dubbed the SmartCard, this pilot project launched at the library this fall for first year students is being touted as technology - a convenient answer to the university's cumbersome ways in these days of fiscal constraints.

Today, this multi-purpose photo identification card embedded with a computer chip is a library/photocopy/printing/Internet access card, as well as a cafeteria and vending machine debit card, all in one. But only one of its four electronic purses is currently being used - meaning the potentials of this card in the future are numerous.

Tomorrow, the chip technology could make it possible to expand services to include campus meal plans, a security program, encoded demographic data, parking, banking, telecommunication, shopping at local merchants, and beyond.

"If we want to maintain the current level of service we have to find faster ways to deliver it", said Chris Handley of UofT's Rethinking Administration office. "We want the entire campus to adopt this. We want door locks to be electronic in future."

"It's a card built for the future", added Alfred Cheng, the director of library finance and administration. He says immediate conveniences, such as library users' increased accessibility to Internet periodicals and laser printing will only multiply.

If all goes well, all students, faculty, and staff may be touting cards bearing computer chips rather than the current ones with bar codes. "We've discussed it for a number of years", said Carole Moon, head UofT librarian. "The real challenge is to get it in the hands of our target community as quickly as possible."

Card raises privacy issue

Although SmartCard may be efficient from a business sense and convenient for some users, there are serious privacy and security issues which must be addressed, says David Jones, professor of computer science at McMaster University and president of Electronic Frontier Canada, an organization which aims to protect freedom of expression and privacy in cyberspace.

"The data base that will be created will be unprecedented in the level of detail about day to day comings and goings of thousands of people", said Jones of the potential capabilities of the chip-embedded card. "You could piece together a whole history of someone."

"You could take the top 20 per cent of consumers and sell that list for targeted marketing", Jones added. "And this is your information, but you have not choice about it being collected and sold."

Moore assures no such plan is in place for the pilot project. "There's no intent nor funding for that."

"The library will only collect and maintain data in order to satisfy statutory requirements for accounting records. We have no intention of collecting information [for any other purpose]", added Cheng.

In its promotional material, the SmartCard is dubbed as "Making University Life Easier" - "UofT's new photo library card. It's here. It's convenient. And it's free."

Susan Knishnetyk, a University of Winnipeg graduate entering U of T's law school this fall, took this information at face value when she was waiting in line for what she thought was a conventional photo ID card. "I have no idea what the SmartCard involves. I have never heard of SmartCard technology", she added.

But Will Waites, a University College student specializing in artificial intelligence, says the campus needs to be made aware of the significance of this card.

"A lot of people take exception to having statistics about themselves being collected", said Waits of this highly centralized system. "And there's a small number of people keeping an eye on everybody and we have to trust that this small number are ethical."

The $730,000 which is being spent on SmartCard's pilot project is being split between the academic priorities and the library.

Michael Finlayson, vice-president human resources, says the possibility of cost-savings is what makes the project very exciting. He says cash-handling jobs on campus can be replaced with high-tech ones. "Technology takes over the relatively mundane jobs", he said. "It takes the drudgery out."

with files from Sarah Schmidt


Copyright © 1997 by The Varsity. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.