France to debut USB-enabled fare cards

French railway operator SNCF is conducting trials this month of a new payment scheme that would appear to offer a multitude of conveniences in one package. Basically, it’s your typical RFID-based, touch-and-go fare card already used in many mass transit systems around the world. The nifty thing here is the fact that this card also has a USB connection port. Users can connect their fare card to a computer, and they are then automatically taken to the SNCF website where they can add money or purchase monthly passes.

Unfortunately something like this always has a tendency to raise privacy concerns, and this particular product is no different. Wired Magazine reports that, due to the nature of the card, the USB stick holds information about the user such as name, whether they are a student or senior citizen, and how much money they have remaining on their card. Luckily, SNCF seems to have taken such concerns into account; the stick is designed in two completely seperate parts. The RFID chip contains only a unique ID number and cannot access personal details about the user that are stored on the USB drive. It’ll be interesting to see how this 1,000 person trial goes; if it’s successful, SNCF plans to deploy the cards on a more permanent basis beginning in 2010.

[Via Gizmag]