Error rates cause havoc for TWIC roll-out

Published 29 November 2006

One percent error rate is fine for HSPD-12, but FIPS-201 sensitivity may cause problems at ports; long lines and delays are expected, and port officials are steaming

Doubts continue to mount about the much-vaunted, much-troubled Transportation Workers Identification Credential. Intended to provide a standard biometric ID across the transportation sector — including port, airline, and trucking employees — it has over the past year run into various problems, both political and technical, with the latter perhaps proving much more difficult to overcome. We have previously reported on the problem of designing a card and card reader that could withstand harsh maritime environments. Now we hear that program officers are having a difficult time complying with the FIPS 201 standard.

Intended originally for use with the HSPD-12 government worker program, FIPS 201 permits a 1 percent system error rate — not a major problem when it is just access to a building by a single individual that is being unnecessarily impeded. Yet the same error rate could play havoc at port facilities, where a port processing 300 trucks an hour would receive three errors during that same period. “We’ve got vehicles backed up five to seven deep, so you’d have to pull someone out of line and let them through, because you cannot back out. And some of the ports have only one lane,” said Lisa Himber, vice president for the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay. “We’d certainly be concerned about the potential for a lot of false reads, and one in 100 is a pretty large number.”

-read more in Alice Lipowicz’s Washington Technology report