Sign of the future? Napolitano issues card reader pilot

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 3/2/2012

The Transportation Security Administration’s TWIC card program has been bashed for being expensive, for requiring multiple trips for enrollment and for not meeting congressional deadlines.

For all its calamities, the program has achieved a first.

A new report from the chief of the Department of Homeland Security says TWIC is the largest program of its kind to test whether thousands of people can have their identification electronically verified by a fingerprint and ID card comparison.

For nearly five years, 2 million truck drivers and others who work at major American ports and warehouses have used their TWIC cards mainly as flashcards. They occasionally hold the cards up for security as they drive onto the port.

During the TWIC card reader pilot program, truckers and other port workers were tested using new electronic card reader systems. The workers pushed their fingers onto a small device at port entrances, allowing TWIC card readers to compare the prints to fingerprints already taken and stored onto the worker’s TWIC cards.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday issued a report on the program. The report is the next step before DHS proposes a TWIC card reader rule.

TWIC, or the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, is a biometric-capable identity card that can be read by remote devices to check fingerprints, residency documents and other information.

DHS tested more than 30 types of stationary and mobile card readers during the pilot program, and said it won’t recommend specific types of card readers because the department wants ports and other facilities to have flexibility in their choice of systems.

“The lessons learned and technology deployed, as a result of this pilot, provide a critical layer of security at our nation’s ports,” the report says.

“DHS will provide lessons learned and general guidance, but cannot provide a ‘one siz fits all’ reader template due to the uniqueness of each regulated facility and vessel operation.”

Homeland Security grant funds paid for the pilot program being conducted at the New York/New Jersey port complex, Anapolis, MD; Norco, LA; Vicksburg, MS; Brownsville TX, and then twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA.

The report said port facilities using TWIC may benefit financially by using the card due to its identity vetting ease and other factors.

The report did note negatives about the TWIC card reader system, however.

“The Reader Pilot also noted that reader performance varied widely, and there were problems with the durability of the card stock and ability of the cards to be read by the various readers that were used throughout the pilot.”

TWIC was created after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The first TWIC enrollments began in 2007 and will start expiring later this year.

Last month, Napolitano told a congressional committee that TSA an extension of the five-year eligibility for TWIC cardholders is among “available options” DHS is examining.

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