Phased sign-up program for biometric ID cards begins
As of March 2007, mariners must begin complying with the requirement to travel to an enrollment center to get a biometric ID with digital photo and fingerprints, called a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).
Developed with the U.S. Coast Guard, the program is run by the Transportation Security Administration. There will be a phased sign-up period, based on the port where the enrollment center is located. The cost of the card will be between $107 and $159; replacing a lost card would be $36 (although that could be increased to $60). TWIC cards will be good for five years.
These requirements are part of the final rule issued Jan. 3 by the federal Department of Homeland Security for the controversial transportation worker ID program set up under the terms of the Maritime Transportation and Security Act of 2002.
Workers at the most critical ports will need the credentials first, according to Ann Davis, spokesperson for TSA’s northern region. Critical ports will be determined based on a port’s size, types of materials imported and exported and the number of employees, Davis said.
The first group of ports to require the cards had not been named by late February, but will be posted at the Web site: www.tsa.gov/twic.
The TSA anticipates it will take 18 months for all port workers in the country to obtain cards. At least 750,000 maritime industry workers are expected to enroll in the program, according to the TSA, and 10,785 vessels and 3,492 facilities will have to comply with TWIC requirements.
Although there are changes from the proposed rule published in May 2006, critics say the program is still deeply flawed. “They made some improvements, but I don’t think they’ve addressed or tried to address some of the major problems,” said Dennis L. Bryant, senior counsel at the law firm Holland & Knight, who specializes in maritime law. Major problems include the fact that the cards are being issued before the technology for the card readers is adopted and that the program may have a severe impact on small businesses.
Bryant believes that the TWIC program is not needed for half the businesses impacted. “All these small businesses are going to have the same security system as a big oil terminal,” he said. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Major changes made to the May 2006 proposed rule include: delaying implementation of card readers; allowing newly hired workers access to restricted areas for 30 days if accompanied by a TWIC card holder; cutting a requirement that all facilities keep records of everyone admitted for two years; allowing facility operators to reduce the sections of a facility that will require a card reader for access; and refining the definition of a passenger access area on cruise ships and ferries.
Facility owners and operators do not need to purchase card readers to check TWIC cards until card reader technology is tested and a rule for card readers is issued, according to the TSA. This could be a problem if the TWIC cards issued are not compatible with card reader technology. If that happens, “TSA can’t charge the maritime worker for the cost of the new card,” said Bryant. “The problem is, there is no appropriation for the TSA to pay for that new card if it has to be issued.”
A major change from the proposed rule will allow facilities to designate smaller parts of their property as secure areas where TWIC cards are needed. Operators can change their facility security plans to define areas where a card reader is needed for access to include only portions of the facility that directly connect to maritime transportation or are at risk of security breach. Other areas in the facility can be monitored using video cameras, for example. However, the entire vessel is still considered a “secure area” (except for some sections of passenger vessels), which will require card readers for access, according to the final rule. “Vessels present a unique security threat over facilities in that they may not only be targets in and of themselves, but may also be used as a weapon.” In the proposed rule, the TSA thought that the definition of “passenger access area” would cover employees who only serve or entertain passengers, such as musicians on a cruise ship. The TSA realized many of these workers need to enter non-passenger spaces. Therefore, they added the definition “employee access areas” for passenger vessels and ferries. This is a specific space open to employees, but not passengers, which does not require TWIC cards for access by employees, vendors and other workers. The “employee access areas” cannot include any defined as restricted in the vessel security plan.
Finally, the rule was changed to allow emergency workers unescorted access without TWIC cards during an emergency.