Campus & Community

New high-tech ID cards to be distributed around University

3 min read

Beginning this week and continuing through the early winter of 2009, Harvard is distributing new, high-technology ID cards to the University community. The Harvard ID card is used in more than 400 systems across campus, and the new card will make those systems more secure by segregating key information and encrypting it in card-based technologies that are unique to Harvard.

The new ID card looks virtually identical to the old card, but it contains new technology, including an embedded microchip, an antenna, and a second (thinner) magnetic stripe. All these technologies were selected to enhance the security of the card and its associated information, now and in the future. A University task force of experts in administration, security, and technology studied available ID card technologies and settled on the “HID iClass” card because it can hold multiple credentials, process more transactions than other card technologies, and — because of encryption — is very difficult to replicate. In fact, the embedded cryptographic chip is unique to the University, adding an additional level of protection against fraudulent copying.

Beginning at the Northwest Building this week, and then moving progressively to other Cambridge, Boston, and Allston area distribution points, the ID Card Exchange Team will trade affiliates’ old Harvard ID card for a new one in a matter of minutes, with all the personal data activated on the new card.

While ID exchange sites and dates were coordinated to reach the many different areas of campus, any member of the Harvard community can go to any exchange site convenient to them to pick up the new ID.

The new card is already being used around the University. Over the summer the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) changed to contactless card readers for door access at its undergraduate Houses. Since September, some 10,000 FAS students, resident tutors, proctors, dining-service workers, Senior Common Room members, and vendors who needed access to the FAS residential facilities have been using the new ID cards. Also, in November the Blackboard system (operated by Harvard University Dining Services for management of Crimson Cash, BoardPlus, the undergraduate meal plan, and M2 shuttle-service access) began using the new ID card’s second magnetic stripe. All of the Blackboard-based transactions, including Crimson Cash, will continue to work with the old ID cards for the immediate future, but will transition fully to the new card early in 2009.

To learn more about the new Harvard IDs and ID exchange sites and dates, visit If you don’t see a School or program listed here, check the Web site; some event dates and locations are still being finalized.