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Russia launches universal ID and payment card

Posted on: March 1, 2011

Imagine a piece of plastic that gets you a doctor’s appointment, pays your bills, allows you to rent a car or buy a plane ticket and even get Moscow registration faster than the sham ads in the Moscow metro.

President Dmitry Medvedev promised Monday that three years from now all Russians will have this magic card.

He gave the government till May to make final calculations of the funds necessary to introduce the universal electronic card, or UEC, for all citizens and urged banks to not take advantage of card users at the meeting of the commission on modernization and technological development of the economy Monday.

The UEC, which will be a kind of Swiss army knife of plastic cards and serve as a combination of a state electronic ID, driver’s license, car insurance and migration cards among other possible perks, should be available to Russians by 2014, according to the federal law.

The project to create the new e-card could cost the government as much 150 billion rubles ($5.2 billion) to 170 billion rubles ($5.9 billion), Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina told reporters at the modernization commission meeting.

The project will have spanned five years, and the cost of card issuance alone will be 40 billion rubles, which puts the cost of one card at 265 rubles ($9), Nabiullina said.

The minister promised that all investments in the card would be matched by savings as the new e-card will replace the Russian version of social security cards.

While the card offers an almost infinite number of benefits, the list of them is still to be determined, and most other details of the project are still to be worked out.

Banks, for one, are not sure whether they will benefit from this innovation.

German Gref, chief executive of state-run Sberbank, which is one of the three banks that will help finance the card’s development, said banks have so far been reluctant to provide funds for the project because it’s “of little interest” commercially, Bloomberg reported.

Another danger of introducing such a card is the potential for identity fraud, which often plagues countries that have introduced systems of electronic identification and rely heavily on cards similar to the UEC, experts say.

This is especially the case in Western countries, said Timur Aitov, executive director at the Association of Russian Banks. “Until recently, we have had nothing to steal,” he said.

But introducing a card that would hold comprehensive data on citizens could put them at high risk of identity theft.

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