Mellon Network Services and the U.S. Treasury's Financial Management Service won an award last week for a smart card project they operate at Fort Sill, Okla.
The organizations won the Smart Card Industry Association's Larry Linden Innovative Security Applications Award. It is named for the late card technology pioneer and former co-chairman of the Cardtech/Securtech conference, where the award was presented.
The Fort Sill program for Army recruits, begun in March, is thought to be the largest U.S. exercise in combining a biometric identification technology-in this case fingerprinting-with smart cards.
The Department of Defense is testing the electronic method for disbursing $4 million in salaries and other basic-training costs that would otherwise be paid in paper and be prone to losses and errors.
"Fingerprint technology clearly has some advantages-you don't forget it, you don't lose it, it can't be compromised," said Linda Brown, vice president of Mellon Network Services in Pittsburgh.
Mellon also operates a smart card pilot at Fort Knox, Ky., that relies on conventional PIN security. A third military trial, operated by First Union Corp. at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., uses Visa Cash cards.
The French manufacturer Gemplus said it is supplying 20,000 biometric smart cards to recruits at Fort Sill. The finger verification system comes from Identicator Technology, San Bruno, Calif.
"We think this application will become very popular," said Magruder Dent, a Bethesda, Md.-based marketing manager for Gemplus. "By reducing the number of cards a service person has to carry around, you can eliminate the cost of handling paper and the manpower that is used in administrative support functions."
Mr. Dent said the efficiencies can free personnel from back-office tasks to focus on front-line duties.
Recruits at Fort Sill get a salary advance on their cards before they open bank accounts. The cards are valid for 60 days, the average length of basic training, after which any balance is refunded to the recruit.
"The beauty of biometrics is that it is not easy for someone to duplicate your fingerprints," said Jerome Svigals, an electronic banking consultant in Redwood City, Calif.
"People have an adverse concept of fingerprint scanning, but if it is properly marketed, people can be made to understand that it is to their advantage," the consultant said.
He said the test can prove significant for Gemplus, the leading chip card producer. In a further sign of its commitment to biometrics, Gemplus announced an agreement to integrate its technology with the fingerprint readers of Advanced Precision Technology Inc., San Francisco.
Bruce A. Pastorius, president and chief executive officer of Advanced Precision, said the two technologies are intertwined. "Where smart cards go, biometrics will follow," he said.
Gemplus also revealed it will deliver more than 250,000 smart cards for the Rite Aid stores program announced last month. The Rite Cash cards are designed to replace paper vouchers used for refunds and gift certificates.
All of Rite Aid's 3,900 stores are expected to be handling the cards by midyear.