U.S. Coast Guard Eases Final Rule on TWIC Readers

Image courtesy ILWU

By Paul Benecki 2016-08-24 20:28:54

On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard issued the long-awaited final rule implementing electronic inspection of the Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) at port facilities. 

The TWIC program began in 2002 as part of the post-9/11 Maritime Transportation Security Act. The $130 biometric chip card became mandatory for unescorted access to secure port facilities in 2009, with visual inspection accepted in lieue of card readers. Over 2.4 million longshoremen, truckers, mariners and port facility employees hold these cards today.

With the final rule in place, affected facilities will have to implement one of several options for electronic inspection of the card's chip data by August 2018. Undercover agents have arrested forgers for marketing fake TWIC cards and have used the falsified cards to get past visual inspections; the Coast Guard hopes that the inspection of each card’s electronic features would help close this security gap. 

The outdoor fixed mount card readers are costly, in the range of $17,000 each (installed), and larger port facilities would require over 100 devices, according to the International Biometrics and Identification Association (IBIA).

But many of the affected ports already have card-based personnel access control systems (PACS), and in response to industry pressure, the Coast Guard’s final rule allows them to keep using their own equipment, under certain conditions. This means that ports with existing PACS may not have to invest in new card readers, and with only 525 "high risk" facilities covered under the final rule, the USCG estimates the ten-year cost of compliance at about $150 million – less than half of IBIA's earlier estimate of $370 million for the initial, proposed version of the regulation. 

"The requirements in this final rule are designed to allow as much flexibility in design of an access control system as possible while still achieving the goals of the TWIC reader program," the USCG wrote. "As long as the Coast Guard agrees that the proposed security plan accomplishes the goals in a robust fashion, we will not limit the choices of the means to do so."

The USCG’s cost estimate does not include the expense of TWIC cards for workers and employers, a source of concern for longshore unions and others. At $130 per card and more than 2.4 million cardholders, the cost exceeds $300 million, not including renewals. 

The Coast Guard expects that only one vessel will be required to carry TWIC readers for controlling access to secure shipboard areas. The rule only applies to a ship classified in Risk Group A – ships either carrying certain dangerous cargo in bulk or “certificated to carry more than 1,000 passengers” – and with more than 20 crewmembers. The U.S.-flagged cruise ship Pride of America meets the crew and passenger count guidelines, and Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Katie Braynard confirms that the Pride is the only vessel expected to be covered by the final rule. 

The Coast Guard itself does not necessarily accept the TWIC as valid identification. A facility security official at the Coast Guard's headquarters in Washington had not previously heard of the card, and advised a reporter to bring along another form of ID in case the TWIC wasn't accepted by guards at the entrance.