Using TWIC with biometrics will be challenge

Head of security for Virginia ports says biometrics may be troublesome to fit into port operations


NORFOLK, VA.-As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to enroll the nation's port workers in a new federal credentialing system, it will soon begin shifting more attention to how the credentials will be used, which will present ports with challenges depending on how the identity cards are used, Ed Merkle, the head of security for the Virginia Port Authority, tells TR2 in a recent interview.

Introduction of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) at the Port Authority's facilities, which is slated to begin in a month or two, will be a good thing, Merkle says. Having to present valid and verifiable documents that prove people are who they say they are combined with government background checks to make sure they are good people will allow the port to "only invite people in to do business with us we know and trust," he says.

Currently obtaining a simple flash pass, especially a visitor's badge, is pretty easy because it typically requires a government form or photo identification. "And anyone that thinks you can't falsify an ID, all you ever have to do is talk to any college kid...they make their own IDs all the time," Merkle says.

Still, port police and others charged with ensuring that an individual belongs on port facilities will need to validate that the card holder is the legitimate user. That's where biometric technology that will be part of the credentialing process and an authentication feature on the card comes in.

But using biometrics, which in the case of TWIC will be fingerprints, to authenticate legitimate card holders will be tricky in Virginia Port Authority's daily operations, Merkle says.

The issue is, "Does it work? How fast," Merkle says of the biometric side of TWIC.

DHS is expected to issues use rules for the TWIC readers shortly, allowing time for public comment before they are finalized. Merkle says a TWIC card will be needed to get through the gates of the Port Authorities terminals, but the question is will the card typically be used as a flash pass or will the readers need to be used.

"We believe that...the regulators at the national level will use the biometric piece of the card at high threat conditions, which we believe is the appropriate time to do that," Merkle says. "But if you're at a low threat condition you have to make some risk management decisions. Is it worth it?"

Merkle suggests that at high threat conditions, and for random checks, handheld readers be used at the gates to the Port Authority's terminals. For one, he says fixed readers at gates make for awkward entry. People in cars sometimes have to get out of their vehicles or back up just to get a ticket from an automated dispenser just for entry into a parking garage, he says.

But with a truck, Merkle says, long mirrors on the outside of the cab prevent the driver from getting close enough to a reader to submit a fingerprint. Moreover, truckers often have dirty hands, which may make it difficult to read the fingerprints, he says.

Even though using handheld readers might mean having several or more police officers manning them at the gate during high threat conditions and for random checks, it still might be more cost effective than using fixed readers, Merkle says.

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