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LCQ18: Durability of Smart ID cards

    Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, to a question on durability of smart identity cards by the Hon Frederick Fung in the Legislative Council today (January 16):


     I have received a complaint from a member of the public that his application for using his smart identity ("ID") card for public library services was unsuccessful because the information stored in his smart ID card could not be retrieved.  The library staff told him that there had been similar cases in the past and the problem might be related to the fact that the surface of the chip in the ID card had oxidised.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of reports received each year by the Government about failure to retrieve information from smart ID cards since their introduction in June 2003; whether it has looked into the causes of such failure, and its impact on the verification of the identity of members of the public (for example, using the e-channels for immigration control) by law enforcement agencies;

(b) of the durability requirements for the smart ID cards which were specified in the contract awarded by the Government for the supply of such ID cards, whether it has assessed if the aforesaid oxidisation reflects the failure of the ID cards concerned to meet the specified durability requirements; if the assessment result is in the affirmative, of the remedial measures; and

(c) how the authorities will deal with cases involving failure to retrieve information from smart ID cards, and whether they will replace ID cards for the cardholders concerned free of charge?


Madam President,

     Our specific reply to the question raised by the Hon Frederick Fung is as follows:

(a) According to the experience of the Immigration Department ("ImmD"), although Smart ID Cards are made of durable materials, the chips may still be damaged due to some external factors.  Therefore, the ImmD has already reminded holders of Smart ID Cards that the Smart ID Cards should be kept in appropriate protective pouches.  Furthermore, holders should not bend their cards, put magnets against their cards or place their cards together with keys or coins etc.

     The Government does not keep statistics on cases where data stored in the chips of Smart ID Cards cannot be retrieved.  Nonetheless, out of the some 7.7 million Smart ID Cards issued by ImmD since June 2003, about 9,500 have to be replaced due to damage of the chips, constituting 0.12% of the total number of cards issued.

     Except for immigration clearance, retrieving the data stored in the Smart ID Cards is not required by most law enforcement agencies during their daily work.  For members of the public whose data stored in the chips of their Smart ID Cards cannot be retrieved when using the Automated Passenger Clearance System ("e-Channels"), immigration clearance can still be conducted for them by verifying their identity at the traditional counters.

(b) The chips of the Smart ID Cards are manufactured by a renowned international chip contractor, and are made of durable alloy.  They have been repeatedly and stringently tested in many countries and by many organisations.  To ensure that the chips will function normally, various quality checks are performed on each and every Smart ID Card before it is issued to its holder.  According to the contract signed between the Government and the contractor, the designed durability of Smart ID Cards is that the cards can be read and written for 100,000 times as well as can be used for 10 years.  Up to now, the ImmD has not found the Smart ID Card failing to meet the requirement for durability.

     Based on the analyses and professional opinions of the contractor, the ImmD believes that the dirt marks appearing on some chips of the Smart ID Cards are results of external factors rather than oxidisation of the chips.

(c) Members of the public may contact the ImmD to make an enquiry if they suspect that the chips of their Smart ID Cards have been damaged.  If there is evidence suggesting that the damage has not been caused by man-induced factors, the ImmD will replace the ID Card free of charge on a case-by-case basis.  However, if the damage involves man-induced factors, the applicant is required to pay a replacement fee of $335.

Ends/Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Issued at HKT 16:33


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