TSA to pilot smart cards for workers, travelers

The Transportation Security Administration is preparing to identify workers at regional points of entry by smart card. Eventually frequent travelers could get the same kind of ID and bypass long lines at check-in.

In a little less than a year, the agency expects to issue prototypes of a smart identification and access card for regional airport, seaport and transit employees. The Transportation Worker Identification Card, or TWIC, would do online background checks and link to other agencies' watch lists of suspects.

The pilot sites are Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., on the East Coast, and Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., on the West Coast. TSA will spend the next seven months setting requirements for an employee smart card using technologies such as magnetic stripes, 2-D bar codes or biometrics. A request for information will go out to vendors in a few months. TSA expects to spend about four months installing one or two prototype technologies at up to 10 facilities.

'We'll then be moving to a more national program,' said Elaine Charney, TSA's program manager for TWIC. She spoke yesterday at the CardTech/SecurTech ID conference in Washington.

A one-size-fits-all smart card might not suit all types of transportation workers, however. Longshoremen, pilots and truck drivers 'operate in different environments,' said James E. Hall, managing partner of Hall & Associates LLC of Washington and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

TSA will also tighten employee access at 20 airports across the country, selected from among 75 airports that volunteered for the effort. The agency expects to release an RFI for biometrics, surveillance and monitoring technology next week and begin testing at airports in 2004.

Designing smart-card technology for travelers is more difficult. Under a registered traveler program, TSA is working to put together funding and implementation strategies for a smart card that would check backgrounds of frequent travelers.

'Business travelers would be willing to pay a fee for the convenience of a card like that,' Hall said. 'I think it could be self-funded.'

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