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Ruler of our lives From Asiaweek Online. Microchip-laden "smart cards" are rapidly pushing the old plastic out of wallets and lifestyles.

Plastic with a chip From Asiaweek Online. Smartcard projects in Asia.

Asia leading world in smart card innovation From Software Asia. The region's smartcard market is set to triple to 30 percent by 2000.

Cashless in Hainan From Asiaweek Online. Today, when the Chinese speak of "great leap forward" they are talking of something more sophisticated than backyard blast.

When smartcard heaven can also be hell

The scary thing for cardholders is if you lose your card, you're not just out of money, you lose your identity, proof that you can drive, and access to your workplace. Scarier still--someone could assume your identity and misrepresent you.

Canceling the card should be easy enough. But how long will it take to get a new card if you need to go through several government departments to identify yourself? How would the government avoid the misuse of a dead person's card?

The questions were confounding. Compounding the specification nightmare, was the fact that Malaysia has a history of fumbling when it comes to such technology. Figure out, for instance, why there are three non-compatible public payphone systems requiring three different cards to access.

Could such a government make the leap to the one-smartcard nirvana it proposed for its Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project that the MPC was part of?

One of the early decisions of the task force was to adopt a two-card approach and narrow the scope of functions for each. One would be a Payment Card for access to debit, credit, ATM and electronic cash.

The other would be a Government Card for identity, health, driving license, and passport purposes. The latter was limited to four applications, perhaps because it was inconceivable to think more than four government departments could agree on anything.

The task force insisted that technology platforms for both cards be compatible, so that eventually, the cards could be merged.

The decision proved fortuitous for Malaysia. In a single stroke, the market for the national MPC--estimated at as many as two million for the initial MSC roll-out--was doubled.

Factor in the fact that Malaysia planned to issue the MPC to all its 20 million citizens, and the card's vast e-commerce possibilities, and you had a hot market on your hands.

Suddenly, major smartcard players all over the world were interested.


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