The TWIC ID Card: Is It Worth The Costs?

In our modern day society, there are legitimate concerns about internal security. One of the ways that the federal government has responded to the situation is to pass laws and regulations which are designed to make it difficult to carry out attacks on vital areas of the infrastructure.

One of the more controversial such governmental programs involves the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (or TWIC). Originally envisioned as a shield against certain types of threats, the program has run into many unforeseen difficulties. Indeed, some see it as possibly exacerbating the problem.

We will be exploring some of these imperfections in more detail, but before we do, we will be answering some relevant questions. What exactly is a TWIC card? What are some of its pros, and some of its cons? What are some of the major criticisms that have been raised? And, is it worth all the trouble?

Let’s answer these questions.

WHAT IS A TWIC CARD?

TWIC CardAccording to the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) website, the Transportation Worker Identity Credential (or TWIC) is a government program that issues specialized biometric tamper resistant cards to workers of a certain class. The workers who are required to obtain one of these cards includes anyone who works at a government designated sensitive site such as military installations, docks, and other sensitive areas. These include members of the Merchant Marines, longshoremen, truck drivers, and anyone else who needs to work at sensitive sites without a security escort.

In order to obtain one of these identification cards, the worker in question has to go through a rigorous application procedure. During this process, the individual is required to provide biometric information about themselves, such as fingerprints and in some cases retinal scans. In addition to this, they have to undergo a stringent background checking process. This is governed by the TSA, and individuals are investigated to ascertain whether they have a criminal or arrest record, and also to find out if they have been found guilty of one of many disqualifying offenses.

The card itself is fitted with a special microchip. This chip contains biometric data about the card holder. It can be scanned either by inserting it into a special reader, or in some cases it can be scanned remotely by special sensors.

Many analysts have predicted that eventually this program could be expanded to include many other industries and work sites, including chemical processing facilities, dams, and may even be required to work anywhere in the manufacturing industry.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROS AND CONS ASSOCIATED WITH THE TWIC?

As was mentioned earlier, there are some situations where it is important to make sure that individuals who access sensitive areas are properly vetted. There have been break ins and even shootings at sensitive military facilities. There have been attempts to blow up airports, and even passenger jets. This country has many nuclear power generation plants, and any breach of security at these installations could have catastrophic consequences for the nation at large.

Therefore, it is a good idea to thoroughly vet individuals who must work in areas such as these, and the TWIC program may be of help in this arena. However, the best laid plans often carry unforeseen consequences, and it is starting to seem like insufficient thought was put into the implementation of the program before it was introduced.

To illustrate this, consider the situation in the trucking industry. A huge amount of consumer goods are shipped from one corner of the country to the other, 24 hours a da, 365 days a year. These goods originate in many places, including manufacturing facilities and sea ports. Because some of the materials have been deemed to be potentially dangerous, the decision was made to require many truck drivers to undergo the TWIC application process.

But, there turned out to be a big problem with this. Each TWIC applicant is forced to undergo what is known as a Security Threat Assessment. Part of what is looked at during this process is a persons arrest record, any convictions that they may have had in the past, any current legal troubles, and even any indictments that they may have had. In many cases, the fact that the person may have been found innocent of a charge is not taken into account. And to make matters worse, for those who may have made a mistake in the past there is a lengthy waiting period.

The result of all of this? It just so happens that many truck drivers may have been arrested or prosecuted at some time in their past. Because of the TWIC regulations, it has been estimated that at least 40% of current truck drivers will be unable to pass the vetting process. And this at a time in which the trucking industry is short some 30,000 drivers, and counting. It is easy to see the massively negative impact these polices will have on the economy at large, and on these workers in particular (as an aside, if you are a truck driver, know your rights).

Another major issue is the fact that at least 26,000 TWIC cards that were distributed nationwide have failed to operate properly. Each one of these cards will have to be replaced at a huge cost to the government, and therefore the tax payer.

There are many other ongoing issues with the TWIC program, and we will next consider some of the complaints about it.

WHAT ARE SOME CRITICISMS OF THE TWIC PROGRAM?

One major problem seems to be that estimates of how many workers would need a TWIC card were grossly underestimated. New York Port Authority Security Manager Bethann Rooney has weighed in on the situation. According to her, the TSA estimates for affected people were short by at least 65,000 people – and that was with only 70% of a return on survey. This means that for the New York Port Authority alone, some 100,000 additional people may have to be vetted, and who can say how many will pass?

Ms. Rooney also had something to say about the card readers themselves. She stated that during a recent deployment of the technology, the TWIC card readers had a false rejection rate of close to 10%. This is in contrast to the 1% false rejection rate that was considered acceptable.

In addition, the program as a whole has already cost some $420 million dollars, and no end is in sight. The situation prompted the GAO, or Government Accountability Office, to issue a statement that questioned the original premise and whether or not it would have any contribution towards greater security.

So the question remains, is it worth all the trouble? There is no doubt that the nation as a whole needs to be conscious of possible threats to security. Not to do so would be careless.

That being said, to blindly throw money at the problem without first carefully assessing the best way to address the situation is wasteful of tax dollars. In addition, it is proving to be an unnecessary hardship to many otherwise honest and hardworking citizens who seek only to look after their families. And putting out technologies before they are fully tested or may not even work simply exacerbates the problem.

The solution may involve carefully weighing the various costs the program imposes on people and the economy. In addition to this, careful consideration should be given to technology that can effectively meet the goal of reasonable levels of security at the nation’s most vulnerable points. If this balance can be found, then the TWIC program and any that follow it may ultimately prove to be an asset to the country, rather than a burden.