India's e-passport project hits a roadblock
Amsterdam-based chip supplier on radar for business with Pak
India’s electronic passport project has hit a roadblock as the Amsterdam-based company Gelmalto, selected for supplying chips came under scanner for its alleged role in smart card rollout in Pakistan.
The Ministry of External Affairs has sought a fresh security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs for Gemalto, which was selected to supply chips for the pilot project in 2008. The MNC was reported to be impementing smart card project in Pakistan.
The Ministry of Home Affairs asked the Department of Economic Affairs under the Ministry of Finance to obtain a self-disclosure report from Gemalto, detailing its businesses in Pakistan. It is also understood to have engaged intelligence agencies to assess if Gemalto’s business in Pakistan could pose a security threat to India in case it is allowed to continue supplying chips for the project.
Gemalto, however, claimed that the company had never participated in any government project in Pakistan. “We have never had any government projects with Pakistan,” a spokesperson of the company stated in response to queries from Deccan Herald.
The Gemalto spokesperson said the company did serve governments of over 50 countries with its secure document and e-government solutions.
Gemalto was known as Axalto before the latter merged with Gemplus on June 2, 2006. Axalto, however, had in August 2005 announced to have supplied high-end EMV (Europay-Mastercard-Visa) chip to Pakistan’s United Bank Limited.
As the UBL had pioneered EMV rollout in Pakistan, Axalto had provided the bank with a package that included data preparation, cards supply and personalisation solution.
Gemalto was in September 2008 selected to supply its “Sealys eTravel” solution to India Security Press for the e-passport pilot project, aimed at issuing tamper-proof and secure travel documents to diplomats and officials. The Sealys eTravel package included contact-less communications component of the electronic passports made by the India Security Press. It also included advanced secure operating system and microprocessor that stores and protects the holder’s digital identity as well as the communications antenna.
The MEA had plans to start issuing e-passports to ordinary citizens in the second phase. But it recently said that the project had to be deferred as it had to seek “fresh security clearance from the MHA in respect of a technically qualified bidder (Gemalto)”.
Gemalto did not give a specific reply to a query from Deccan Herald on whether the company had submitted the self-disclosure report to the Indian Government. However, in a consolidated response to a set of queries, its spokesperson said the company maintained the policy of customer confidentiality and did not comment on the details of its customers’ operations and processes.
Notably, in a recent report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs had expressed “concern over the doubtful background” of Gemalto.