DHS eyes Oct. TWIC enrollment

The Homeland Security Department's agencies responsible for the Transportation Worker Identity Credential (TWIC) now expect to begin biometric enrollment for the permits by October, according to a senior department official.

The program to provide biometric credentials to workers at ports and other transport hubs has reeled from multiple delays and cost overruns over the past four years, partly because of disputes over biometric technologies. Additional problems arose in assuring that card readers could survive the harsh working environments at ports and on ships.

The path to activating the biometric features of the TWIC program now has been smoothed by the recent release of technical specifications that describe security features and other aspects of equipment related to the identity cards.

DHS planners expect that the TWIC program eventually will enroll about 770,000 people, each of whom will receive biometric credentials or 'tokens' after they complete a background check. The workers themselves will pay for the credentials, at an estimated cost of just under $140.

The Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Coast Guard, the two DHS agencies most involved with TWIC, jointly issued the specifications for card readers and associated software.

The specifications include a contactless non-proprietary radio frequency identification system, interoperability with Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 201-1 credentialing specifications, reader transmission speeds and flexibility to adapt the system to technology upgrades. The system will use encryption, including private keys, to protect individual privacy and bolster system security.

The new specifications call for the card reader systems to verify users' signatures. The specifications also recommend that the card reader systems provide a biometric 'liveness' detection feature, which is the ability to determine whether a fingerprint comes from an individual or a replica of a fingerprint. The specification does not require that the cards and readers rely on personal ID numbers as a security feature.

The cards and associated technology are intended to combat terrorism at ports, airports, and other secure transportation sites hubs. TWIC identity cards are to be used by a wide range of transportation personnel, including airport and port workers, truck drivers, and seamen.

The TWIC permits are intended to will replace the multiple identity cards currently used by various categories of transportation workers. In some cases, truck drivers and other employees now are required to use several types of credentials to enter ports and other facilities that have adopted varying technologies for access control.

Transportation workers who already have TWIC cards that now function as 'flash passes' could begin enrollment under the new biometric specifications as early October, DHS said. Paul A. Schneider, DHS' undersecretary for management told the House Homeland Security Committee that the department plans to release a detailed enrollment schedule shortly.

The specifications, issued Sept. 18, are available for review. The agency plans to use the TWIC site to update the technical specifications as they may be modified in the future.

The National Maritime Security Advisory Committee worked with TSA officials and other stakeholders to develop an initial version of the specifications earlier this year.

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance journalist based in the Washington area with extensive experience in covering technology issues.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/Shutterstock.com)

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected