US port workers get smartcard IDs

The Transportation Security Administration is apparently moving ahead with plans to start issuing new smartcard biometric identification to more than 75,000 port workers from March, despite earlier concerns by another government agency about its readiness to do so.

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In that report, GAO auditors expressed concern that earlier tests carried out by the TSA between August 2004 and June 2005 had been far too limited in scope and did not fully represent the true scale of the deployment. For instance, when testing the program, the TSA issued cards to just 1,700 workers – not the 75,000 it had originally planned. The TSA also failed to gather sufficient data about the "operational effectiveness" of biometric card readers in "harsh" maritime conditions, the GAO said.

In a response the DHS concurred with the GAO's findings, but did not give any indication that it would perform the additional testing. It stressed that it would be using a contractor experienced with large projects to implement the TWIC initiative. The DHS also noted that it would implement the project in two phases to give port and vessel owners and operators more time to install biometric and other access control components.

In its final rule published last week, the DHS said that the coastguard and other authorised personnel will initially verify TWIC cards when conducting facility and vessel inspections to ensure the cards are valid. Until card reader technology is tested and a regulation issued on access control, facility owners and operators won't be required to use TWIC readers for facility access the DHS said.

The cards will cost between around $149 (£77) each and will be valid for five years. Workers with current "comparable" background checks – including those with a HAZMAT endorsement – will pay a discounted rate, the DHS said.

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