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Bahrain Takes Swipe Into The Future With New Smart ID Cards

Residents of the Gulf kingdom will be able to use the cards for business and politics, including voting in municipal and parliamentary elections.

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) -- The Gulf kingdom of Bahrain is planning a giant swipe into the future with a new smart ID card that citizens can use for business and politics.

The tender for the project was launched Tuesday. Bahraini officials envision a photo ID card with a 64-kilobyte microchip holding the card holder's name, address, national identification number, digital fingerprints and driver's license, passport, medical, financial and educational data.

Users will be able to pay bills, withdraw cash, transfer money check their bank balances and conduct Internet transactions with a swipe of the card, and use the same card to votes in municipal and parliamentary elections.

"We truly believe that this is going to improve and change things dramatically," Sheik Ahmed bin Ateyatella Al Khalifa, undersecretary of the Central Informatic Organization, told reporters Tuesday.

The cards will become available early next year and officials hope most of the kingdom's approximately 600,000 people will have one by 2005, when the next municipal elections are planned. The next parliamentary elections are in 2006.

Most Bahrainis used ID cards with bar-code like stripes to cast their votes in parliamentary elections last October. The new cards will carry more data than those cards.

"We believe that we have a good infrastructure to leap forward," said Sheik Ahmed, adding that the kingdom is adopting the technology after "looking and learning from the experience of countries in Europe and the Far East."

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