Port workers subject to new security rules; costly ID technology nonexistent
Nearly 1 million workers accessing U.S. ports must undergo criminal background checks, submit fingerprints and pay more than $100 for a biometrics identification card under new rules announced Jan. 3 by the Homeland Security Department.
The rules apply to “commercial drivers authorized to transport hazardous materials in commerce to merchant mariners and workers who require unescorted access to secure areas on vessels and at maritime facilities,” the department said.
The technology required to read the biometrics cards, however, has not been created, so the expensive identification card will be used as a flashcard at checkpoints.
“They expect us to spend a lot of money on something that is just a photo ID at this point,” said Steve Stallone, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Mr. Stallone said union officials are reviewing the newrules, but have not yet taken a position.
“There is a lot here to review and check to see what we think. It’s hard to say at this point. But it looks like some of it we like, and some of it we don’t like so much. We don’t even know what they are doing yet to develop a reader,” Mr. Stallone said.
The new rule for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) establishes the enrollment process, fees for the card ranging from $107 to $159, and crimes which will disqualify workers — a task Congress failed to complete during the last session.
“TWIC applicants will undergo a comprehensive background check that looks at criminal history records, terrorist watch lists, immigration status, and outstanding wants and warrants,” said a statement issued by the Homeland Security Department.
Enrollment in the program will begin in March at a small number of ports and then phased in nationwide.
Rather than scan the ID cards through a reader to decipher the biometrics information and fingerprints, workers will “present their cards to authorized personnel who will compare the holder to his or her photo, inspect security features on the TWIC and evaluate the card for signs of tampering.”
“Until card-reader technology is tested and a regulation issued on access control, facility owners and operators will not be required to utilize TWIC readers for facility access,” the statement said.
One industry insider said the system won’t be effective until technology is created that does not require a pin or reader that requires direct contact by a swipe card.
“Contact readers can be destroyed easily in a marine environment. Right now it will be used as a flashcard until the next generation of technology is up and running.”
Although the card-reader requirements are not being implemented at this time, “the Coast Guard will institute periodic unannounced checks to confirm the identity of the holder of the TWIC,” says the new rules, which are spelled out over nearly 500 pages.