As TWIC is implemented in more ports, hurdles emerge

Published 29 January 2008

Port managers worry that there are still some unresolved issues with TWIC, the port employee credentialing system; one example: Will the card typically be used as a flash pass or will the readers need to be used? If readers have to be used, just think of this: A truck has long mirrors on the outside of the cab, preventing the driver from getting close enough to a reader to submit a fingerprint; moreover, truckers often have dirty hands, which may make it difficult to read the fingerprints; there are other issues

As DHS continues to enroll U.S. port workers in a new federal credentialing system, it will soon begin shifting more attention to how the credentials will be used, which will present ports with challenges depending on how the identity cards are used, Ed Merkle, the head of security for the Virginia Port Authority, told SecurityInfoWatch. Introduction of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) at the Port Authority’s facilities, which is slated to begin in a month or two, will be a good thing, Merkle says. Having to present valid and verifiable documents that prove people are who they say they are combined with government background checks to make sure they are good people will allow the port to “only invite people in to do business with us we know and trust,” he says.

Currently obtaining a simple flash pass, especially a visitor’s badge, is pretty easy because it typically requires a government form or photo identification. “And anyone that thinks you can’t falsify an ID, all you ever have to do is talk to any college kid…they make their own IDs all the time,” Merkle says. Still, port police and others charged with ensuring that an individual belongs on port facilities will need to validate that the card holder is the legitimate user. This is where biometric technology that will be part of the credentialing process and an authentication feature on the card comes in. Using biometrics, however, which in the case of TWIC will be fingerprints, to authenticate legitimate card holders will be tricky in Virginia Port Authority’s daily operations, Merkle says. The issue is, “Does it work? How fast,” Merkle says of the biometric side of TWIC.

DHS is expected to issues use rules for the TWIC readers shortly, allowing time for public comment before they are finalized. Merkle says a TWIC card will be needed to get through the gates of the Port Authorities terminals, but the question is will the card typically be used as a flash pass or will the readers need to be used. “We believe that…the regulators at the national level will use the biometric piece of the card at high threat conditions, which we believe is the appropriate time to do that,” Merkle says. “But if you’re at a low threat condition you have to make some risk management decisions. Is it worth it?” Merkle suggests that at high threat conditions,