Progress on U.S. transport I.D. card slowed by tech, privacy issues

Progress on U.S. transport I.D. card slowed by tech, privacy issues

LOS ANGELES - Development of a single identification card for U.S. transportation workers is taking longer than anticipated, but 12 million to 15 million workers in the maritime, trucking, rail and airline industries will eventually have the Transportation Worker Identification Credential that will give them unescorted access to the nation's logistics system.

"The TWIC will happen. It's just a matter of when," Paul Hunter, operations manager for the TWIC project at the Transportation Security Administration, told a port security seminar Wednesday.

To qualify for the card, a measure that grew out of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the government will conduct background checks on longshoremen, truck drivers, rail and airline employees to determine that they do not present a security threat to the nation's transportation system.

When workers swipe the card or present it to a security guard at a job site, employers will know that "this is the person he says he is, and he has had a background check," Hunter told a seminar in Los Angeles sponsored by the American Association of Port Authorities.

The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 provided the legal authority for development of the card, and development began in earnest in December. But progress has been somewhat slower that anticipated as the Transportation Security Administration grapples with technology issues, and determines how extensive background checks will be.

Biometrics, optical (laser) stripes, magnetic stripes and single and two-dimensional bar codes are being considered. The TSA is "technology agnostic" as it evaluates which measures work best for transportation, Hunter said.

Labor unions including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the International Longshoremen's Association and the AFL-CIO are participating in development of the card.

The unions have expressed privacy concerns and want to ensure that certain information from background checks is not divulged to employers, said Dennis Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay in Philadelphia.

Labor is also attempting to secure a mitigation process for the background checks, a neutral review process and a fair and equitable appeal process for workers, Rochford said. His group is leading efforts to develop a worker identification card for Delaware River ports in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

The TSA recently launched pilot ID card projects at Delaware River ports and Los Angeles-Long Beach on the West Coast. The technology evaluation process is scheduled to last five months, and it will be followed by a larger prototype exercise that will last seven months.

The goal of the TSA is to develop a card that is effective and operates on sound business principles, Hunter said. Congress appropriated $35 million for TWIC development in the current fiscal year. Hunter urged the transportation industry to lobby for support of the proposed $55 million TWIC appropriation in the fiscal year 2004 budget.