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Smart Cards, Silly People

Recently, I have spent an irrational amount of time trying to calculate the intrinsic value of a thinner wallet and a lighter purse (my wife's purse, that is). This bothersome question arose as I followed the progress of New Jersey's plans to implement the nation's first government-issued smart card. The governor's spirited initiative is entitled Access NJ, and it would establish a precedent-setting program that begins with a digitized driver's license. Initially, a motorist's picture, driving record, signature, and fingerprint would be stored on his or her individual card, and in subsequent stages, insurance, credit, bank records, medical information, and other personal data would be added. All of the specific-use plastic and paper cards we carry and the services they represent would be combined into one convenient—and very smart—personal identification card.

I work for a New Jersey legislator, so I was not unaware of the program that narrowly failed in June when controversy prevented the bill from being posted for a floor vote in either the senate or the assembly. The barrage of voices that rose from an unusual coalition of religious conservatives, free thinkers, and civil libertarians caused enough hesitancy in the legislature to put the program on hold.

Commercial smart cards are becoming more prevalent here and abroad, but they have been issued by private industry, predominantly banks or short-term authorities (like the one used by patrons at the Atlanta Olympics). To date, no state in the Union has produced a smart card.

When the smart-card headlines succumbed to fresher topics, I was left alone with my query concerning my wallet. I was trying to figure out exactly when our walk through the technology bazaar became a forced march. And I wondered how many questions we consider appropriate to raise before we make peace with the latest marvels.

Technology stop or yield signs are hard to define and defend, and we have yet to set the ...

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