CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- At first glance, it looks like an average work identification card with a digital photo, but the white plastic card that national transportation officials unveiled here Thursday is the newest weapon in the battle to protect the country from terrorists.
In addition to multiple bar codes, a personal identification number and holographic overlays, the card, called the Transportation Worker Identity Credential, is encoded with information that links it to its owner via scans of that person's eyes, fingers and hands.
"Right now... facilities are tracking plastic [cards], not the person," said Iola "Lolie" Kull, the card's program director for the Transportation Security Administration. This card "binds" a person to it.
Workers at Port Canaveral will be among the first in the country to use the cards, which are on a seven-month trial run in six states.
Eventually, the cards will be used to recognize and verify the identity of millions of workers entering seaports, airports and other high-security transportation areas.
The goal is "to enhance security and to promote commerce and at the same time protect an individual's right to privacy" by streamlining the process of getting credentials and reducing the number of ID cards a worker needs to access sites nationwide, said Carol DiBattiste, the deputy administrator for TSA.
Currently, transportation workers -- including dock workers, truck drivers and airline and railway employees -- need a different ID for each facility they enter, DiBattiste said.
That makes ports and other transportation entryways a security risk because it's easier for someone to forge an ID or slip through the background and criminal-history checks.
The security features on this card are "like outer-space technology," DiBattiste said. Having it means "you don't have terrorists... or suspected terrorists driving around in secure areas where they could blow things up."
Florida ports were tapped as test sites because of the amount of traffic going through them, DiBattiste said. Port Canaveral, Port Everglades and Port of Miami have been listed in past years as the world's three busiest cruise ports.
As of Thursday, Ports Canaveral and Pensacola, as well as sites in Long Beach, Calif., and Philadelphia, had started testing the cards.
The enrollment and verification process takes about three days.
Transportation workers may apply for the card -- in Florida, it's mandatory -- at test sites, using a drivers license and some other approved ID, such as a Social Security card.
If the card program is expanded nationally, transportation workers might be charged a fee to obtain them, DiBattiste said.
The TSA has spent $50 million in the past two years to implement the prototype.
More than 200,000 transportation workers here and in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and California are expected to be using the card by the end of the system's trial period.