If the US federal government has its way, transportation workers will soon be carrying more than cargo — they'll also have to tote new identity cards. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is about to begin testing what it calls a Transportation Worker Identity Credential (TWIC), a card that the TSA wants every employee in the transportation industry — from truckers and airport baggage loaders to dock workers — to carry. The cards may contain personal information and biometric finger- print data that will make them difficult to forge or use if stolen. The TWIC is meant to replace the various methods of identification used by individual ports, says Robert Johnson, a TSA spokesman.
This summer the TSA plans to test a variety of cards at the Port of Los Angeles in Long Beach, California, and the ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware. If the testing goes well, the cards could go nationwide as early as next year, says Johnson.
Identity cards have emerged as a hot-button issue in the shipping industry. Some opponents fear the TWIC is the first step toward a national ID card, while others are opposed to anyone having a database of personal information. At least one company, the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR), has instituted its own biometric ID card in advance of the TSA mandate. LISCR, based in Vienna, Virginia., functions like a registry of motor vehicles for 2000 cargo and luxury vessels. It sees its cards as a way to improve maritime identification practices and as a tool in the fight against terrorism, says Scott Bergeron, chief operating officer of LISCR. Like the TSA's cards, LISCR's IDs will use biometric fingerprint data, as well as digitised photographs of the cardholder and encoded personal information. LISCR is testing the cards with 2000 of its individual members and hopes to roll the IDs out to all of them by the end of 2003.