TWIC: Alive and Kicking
But, will the federal government wake up and take notice?
The way forward for homeland security officials seems to be pretty clear when it comes to the much anticipated and often criticized Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC). Or maybe not. The U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) report (GAO-13-198) recently issued a scathing report about the federal ID program. Ultimately, that report may lead to the demise of the program. It doesn’t have to be that way.
In the report, GAO said, “Given that the results of the pilot are unreliable for informing the TWIC card reader rule on the technology and operational impacts of using TWIC cards with readers, we recommended that Congress should consider repealing the requirement that the Secretary of Homeland Security promulgate final regulations that require the deployment of card readers that are consistent with the findings of the pilot program; and that Congress should consider requiring that the Secretary of Homeland Security complete an assessment that evaluates the effectiveness of using TWIC with readers for enhancing port security.” In other words, this would involve "dumbing" down the requirements for TWIC cards and readers. In the end, the card would die a slow death, being utilized sporadically and in isolated circumstances as a “flash” card only.
Separately, however, it is apparent that the technology needed to efficiently and accurately use the TWIC cards as intended, does exist. At least that’s the view of Curt Campbell, Director Maritime Security/Safety at west coast based terminal operator SSA Marine. SSA Marine says that its affiliates operate more cargo terminals than any other company in the world. Beyond this, they also happen to be operating a TWIC Card reader that they say actually works, and is deployed in more than one of their terminals. Unfortunately, the GAO and DHS don’t seem to know anything about it. We first reported on this technology in the 4 quarter edition of Maritime Professional print magazine.
The new GAO Report claiming “Card Reader Pilot Results Are Unreliable; Security Benefits Should Be
Reassessed,” has hit the street and has many calling for the long awaited death of the controversial ID card. In the beginning, the TWIC program was intended – in the words of the GAO itself – to provide a tamper-resistant biometric credential to maritime workers who require unescorted access to secure areas of facilities and vessels regulated under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA). So far, it has evolved into no more than a flash card, at most places, because an official standard and/or reliable card reader technology has not yet been identified. But, SSA’s Campbell says that’s not true. Campbell is adamant that his TWIC reader – the Beastbox – works. Consider the following:
- Between May 2012 and May 2013 SSA recorded over one (1) million TWIC card transactions at its Terminals in Long Beach. Employing 33 Electronic Readers at their terminals, the access turnstiles fire in less than 2 seconds, and according to Campbell; in Biometric Mode in under 4 seconds.
- Of these 1 million TWIC Card Transactions, they’ve taken 6 months of data from the Pier J TWIC Beastbox System, which employs 13 electronic readers to show how the Beastbox System box successfully forced Industry to renew or purchase new TWIC Cards, and comply with the mandates of the Federal Government.
- By capturing all the fields of data off of the TWIC Cards during access, SSA can show the history of the individual in numerous ways, in Campbell’s words, “to our benefit and to the benefit of Federal Government.”
- The database is shared between Terminals and affords many benefits. Campbell reports no failures with the system and the system works as designed. Any failure that takes place out on the edge is with the TWIC card, not the Beastbox system. According to Campbell, “The Beastbox tells us everything that is going on with the card and everything we need to know to make the best possible decision before allowing access.”
Finally, Campbell insists, “We don't allow access into our Terminals without a TWIC Card. On the rare occasion that we have visitors who do not have TWIC Cards in their possession, we escort them. This is a rare occurrence and does not add a cost to the equation; therefore there is no valid data that can be provided to show a trend.”
Elsewhere, the U.S. Coast Guard, according to published reports, is pushing back on the GAO report and insists that the report does not diminish the justification for TWIC as a port security tool. Indeed, the Coast Guard and DHS are moving forward with their efforts with the card system. If Campbell’s Beastbox system actually works as efficiently as he says it does, then that’s a good thing.
U.S. lawmakers complain that more than 10 years after mandating the use of the TWIC program, the card is still largely used as a flash ID by most users. Sometimes it doesn’t even work for that purpose. For example, I have as much fun with my TWIC card as anyone, often deploying it at airport TSA screening stations where, more often than not, the TSA employee does not recognize what it is. Typically, I am asked by the TSA screener, “What is this?” ME: “You issued it, you tell me.” Notwithstanding the lack of education amongst TSA employees themselves, the above situation, if you can trust what the largest terminal operator on the U.S. West Coast tells us, is simply unnecessary. The technology is here, it works and it probably could be deployed nationwide in a very short period of time.
The idea that a single biometric ID card for transportation workers would provide the panacea for port security in a post-9/11 world was, perhaps, a bit ambitious. In circulation since 2007, standards for TWIC biometric readers still haven’t been finalized. That doesn’t mean that the program can’t work. That position might make me a little unpopular in some circles, but it seems a little wasteful to be abandoning something that works, at the 11 hour. We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get this far; let’s see if Curt Campbell is right.
TWIC lives. In use on the U.S. West Coast today, TWIC is being utilized in the manner prescribed by lawmakers, providing another layer of security for a major terminal operator. There doesn’t seem to be any apparent reason why it couldn’t do the same thing anywhere else. The only question left to be answered is whether the federal government will find out before they throw the baby out with the bath water. – MarPro
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Joseph Keefe is the lead commentator of MaritimeProfessional.com. Additionally, he is Editor of both Maritime Professional and MarineNews print magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Keefe@marinelink.com. MaritimeProfessional.com is the largest business networking site devoted to the marine industry. Each day thousands of industry professionals around the world log on to network, connect, and communicate.