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Thursday, August 24, 2006

The illusion of security: Transportation Worker ID plan scuttled

The concept of biometric ID cards for port workers and merchant ship crew seems to be too hard to implement, as reported here:
The Department of Homeland Security quietly announced this week that port facility and merchant vessel owners and operators will not be required to install readers for the biometric ID cards it plans to issue to the nation's transportation workers.

The change, which critics says guts the security benefit of the proposal, is the latest stumble for the controversial ID card project, called the Transportation Worker Identity Credential, or TWIC program.

Officials "have concluded that facility and vessel owners and operators will not be required to purchase or install card readers during the first phase of the TWIC implementation," reads a notice in the Federal Register published Monday.

The notice also promises that "a requirement to purchase and install card readers will not be implemented until the public is afforded further opportunity to comment on that aspect of the ... program." It adds that "the details of this approach will be explained in the next rulemaking."

The TWIC program, mandated by Congress in the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act, is designed eventually to cover 725,000 airport workers, truck drivers, merchant seafarers and others needing unescorted access to transportation facilities like ships, ports and runways.

Workers requiring the card will have to submit their fingerprints and undergo a criminal record, terrorism watch-list and immigration status background check. They will have to travel twice to one of the 125 issuing stations homeland security intends to set up around the country -- once to apply and once to pick the card up -- and pay around $150.

But progress has been slow and marred by concerns about cost, the security of the card-issuance process, and how workers wrongly refused a card will be able to get redress.
But labor unions protested that using the credential as a "flash card" -- one that is simply shown to a guard, rather than confirming the holder's identity through biometrics or a PIN number -- would give a false sense of security and increase the ease with which criminal or terrorist gangs could infiltrate transportation facilities by posing as credentialed workers.

"Why should workers bear the brunt of our government's transportation security programs?" asked Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO in a statement.

"It makes no sense to impose onerous requirements on workers now and force them to pay almost $150 for a glorified flash pass that may never be used as intended," Wytkind said.

Hamilton said the biometric industry shared that concern about moving ahead with the credential issuance process before resolving key technological issues regarding the readers.

"Will these cards have to be modified or re-issued at a later date" if it turns out that the readers chosen are not compatible? he asked.

"It is unfortunate that they didn't think these issues through before" issuing the proposed rule, he said.
Here's an idea for a temporary fix: Gate guards and photo IDs. A quarterdeck guard. Locked spaces on ships with cypher locks. You know, kinda like we've been doing in the Navy for some time.

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