Transforming the public sector part 2: Belgium, Hong Kong & Denmark


27 Aug 2003

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Continuing Digital Ireland’s look into e-government initiatives around the world: how Denmark is using sophisticated software to turn statistics into valuable data on its citizens; securing electronic communications in Hong Kong’s trading community and putting electronic smart cards at the heart of Belgian e-government efforts.

Belgium: Authorities put ID card to test

While the ID card debate rages in the UK and, to a lesser extent, in Ireland, our continental neighbours see no problem in carrying them and consider them just another piece of paper to carry. In fact many people consider them highly useful as they are a guaranteed way of proving your identity when, say, opening a bank account, joining a video club or renting a dress suit.

The other thing that helps in this particular case is that the Belgians are already accustomed to using smart cards. The health insurance system, or Mutuelles, implemented the technology several years ago to streamline payments and refunds while the banks launched Proton, an electronic cash system, in 1996. Now, Belgians can use a single card for making purchases, withdrawing cash from ATMs and guaranteeing cheques.

When it moved from cardboard to plastic ID cards for Belgian nationals about 12 years ago (foreign nationals residing in Belgium still get cardboard) it promised to eventually introduce an electronic system capable of storing personal data and perhaps biometric information. Now that promise has taken a step closer to fulfilment with the announcement in April that Sun Microsystems will provide the Java technology for a new electronic ID card (EID) to be issued to every person over 12 years of age residing in Belgium.

This represents the single biggest rollout of Sun Microsystems’s Java card technology in Europe. So far, the project is only in its pilot stages. Eleven local authorities in Belgium are issuing the cards to their residents. This will allow the system and logistics to be tested in a real world setting. It will be at least October before the Belgian cabinet evaluates the pilot and makes a final decision on whether to proceed or not. If the go-ahead is given, almost 10 million new cards will be required.

The new card system is a cornerstone of the Belgian Government’s e-government initiative. Not only will the cards display information such as name, date of birth and photo, but also the Java technology will enable citizens to authenticate themselves when dealing with e-government applications. They also will be able to use the card to apply electronic signatures to official documents such as tax declarations or application forms. But the card has a far greater potential than acting as an interface between the citizen and the government.

Jan Deprest, president of Fedict, the Belgian Federal ICT department, sees the day when the card can be used for paying for purchases or for reserving tickets for cultural events. According to data from analysts Frost & Sullivan, Java-based cards have the potential to store personal information such as social security numbers, health records, driving licence, fingerprints, digital certificates and passport information, not to mention e-wallet functions.

Hong Kong, China: Trusted trade with Baltimore

Trade is the lifeblood of a region’s economy and for proof of this one need look no further than Hong Kong. Since its establishment as a trading post in the 19th century it has gone on to become a key cargo hub for the Asia Pacific region, enjoying a special status within the People’s Republic of China. It is vital to the Hong Kong economy that goods passing through the port are not delayed.

The Hong Kong Government and other private sector companies therefore set up Tradelink Electronic Commerce Ltd as a joint venture to enhance the productivity and competitiveness of Hong Kong’s trading community. Its goals are to eliminate paper-based trade declarations, reduce lead times, streamline processing costs and improve the port’s overall efficiency. However, while the key goal of Tradelink is to eliminate paper, the legislation establishing it requires that it be equivalent to conventional paper-based standards. In other words, the communications must be trusted with authentication, message integrity, confidentiality and non-repudiation controls in place.

“When private citizens wish to engage in transactions with government or in an environment regulated by government and information is being exchanged, security is non-trivial,” says Jack Nagle, director public sector for Baltimore. “With Tradelink, because you are dealing with cargo and paperwork it is highly significant that there is a trail that can be relied upon that would be a first resort in the event of dispute resolution.”

Tradelink recognised that public key infrastructure (PKI) was the best option available to it to ensure that the company’s web-based communication channels were secure. With PKI and smart cards, Tradelink could provide strong, two-factor authentication controls. Digital signatures based on PKI could also inextricably link individuals with data for non-repudiation purposes and could ensure that data was not tampered with while in transit.

Baltimore was selected to provide the necessary PKI infrastructure. Products used included UniCert for creation and management of digital certificates and Baltimore Key Tools for the development of specific software applications.

There are three core products available from Tradelink: SilkNet Standard on Internet, a Windows-based PKI-enabled application used by Hong Kong’s garment and textile sector to handle export licensing and related transactions. Traders can apply for quota licences and submit trade declarations directly from their desktop PCs.

The second is ValuNet Standard on Internet, a similar package aimed at general importers/exporters to handle trade declarations electronically. Once the application is installed, traders can digitally sign transactions and send them securely over the web. The third, LogiNet Standard on Internet is also a Windows-based, PKI-enabled application, this time aimed at Hong Kong’s forwarders and carriers so they can handle trade and transportation and related transactions electronically.

Tradelink is one of a growing number of e-government applications using PKI technology. Baltimore is also working with the Italian Government on the development of security technology for use in that county’s new electronic ID card. Closer to home, Baltimore digital certificate technology plays a key role in the Revenue On-Line Service.

Denmark: Making statistics meaningful with SAS

Denmark’s Central Statistics Office — Statistics Denmark — is unique among its peers in that 30pc of its budget comes from sales of its services. In addition, the office delivers almost 400 million individual statistics, updated daily, to over 50,000 registered users through its website (www.statbank.dk) free of charge. This is an integral part of building trust with the population that the data gathered is not misused.

Statistics Denmark is also unique in that it conducts its national census without the use of census questionnaires. Instead, the main data for modelling society comes from three numbers. Each citizen, dwelling and business has a unique identifier. The citizen number is used for the central population that keeps records of every Dane from birth to death. The same number is also used for smaller registers such as taxation, social security and healthcare.

The various registers that are based upon the different identifiers provide a large quantity of raw data. To turn that data, however, into meaningful, high-quality information, Statistics Denmark called in software experts SAS.

Data collected from the administrative registers and other sources is collected and cleaned up using SAS software. The output from this is then loaded into statistical registers for aggregation and analysis, again using SAS software.

Visitors to the website can frame their queries flexibly and dynamically. In addition, corporate customers can use a variety of value-added services to extract data in the precise format they require for use in their own IT systems. Much of this computing is carried out on the office’s mainframes. However, Statistics Denmark is using SAS Integration Technologies and SAS Enterprise Guide to reduce its dependence on mainframes and extend its client-side capabilities.

This is not SAS’s only involvement in population data. The 2000 US census was radically different to the 1990 census, thanks to SAS. In 1990, the count was conducted on mainframe and mini-computers with most data review products on paper, making thorough reviews difficult and time consuming. In 2000, however, SAS Version 8 gave the US Census Bureau unprecedented access to data using client-server technology.

Census Bureau employees can access all the data from their desktops using a point-and-click interface to collect and analyse data in a matter of seconds that would have taken days only 10 years previously.

SAS software was used to create person-level and household-level files for each state. These records were then merged with geographical information giving analysts the ability to drill down by geographical hierarchy. This means, for instance, bureau employees can compare data for a given area in 2000 with the same data for 1990. This information will be invaluable in redrawing constituency boundaries for future elections and for ensuring that US$200bn of federal funds are invested appropriately.