ID cards coming for transport workers

by Daniel Joyce

The U.S. Department of Transportation has established a Credentialing Direct Action Group to develop recommendations for a national transportation worker identification card to be used throughout the U.S.

The goal is to achieve a system that verifies identity, validates background information, assists transportation facilities in managing their security risks, and accounts for personnel access to transportation facilities.

The proposed card would utilize “smart card” technology, and some sort of biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint, retina scan or other reliable physical characteristic that can verify identity.

The group wants to build on existing technology as much as possible and minimize the need for redundant credentials while also reducing the unauthorized release of personal information. This redundancy concern suggests the card may also serve as a commercial driver’s licence.

Since this has been proposed as a domestic U.S. measure, the implications for Canadian transportation workers are unclear. The proposed transportation worker ID card is just one more variation of a theme playing out for some time, even before the attacks of Sept. 11.

Some of the prior variations have also related to domestic concerns.

A few years ago, there was talk of standardizing the state commercial driver licensing system, based on the fact that the driver’s licence is the predominant form of proof of identification in the U.S.

If all 50 states met minimum standards for security and reliability, the government could use the drivers licensing systems for proof of identity and eligibility for federal benefits.

The notion of a national ID card has also involved external issues, such as tracking and maintaining information on non-citizens for U.S. Immigration purposes.

Readers may recall one of the features of U.S. Immigration legislation in 1996 was the implementation of a tracking system at the border to monitor all persons arriving and departing the U.S., including the land ports of entry at the Canada-U.S. border. After a tremendous outcry from U.S. and Canadian interest groups, this plan was dropped.

However, since at least one of the suspected Sept. 11 terrorists entered into the U.S. from Canada, the possibility is being revisited. There are two main reasons why the issue of national security cards fails to make progress.

The first is that there are so many issues involved, no one can decide how to implement the system properly.

As noted above, there are both domestic and external issues involved, including state and federal governments, which at times do not have the same goals and objectives.

A related issue is the scope of the project.

Such a vast undertaking requires significant resources, and there appears to be a fear of creating a flawed system, or failing to think through all the issues and problems.

So, in typical government fashion, there is a lot of talk, a lot of study, but little action.

The second, and perhaps more important reason for the failure of previous national ID card initiatives, is it violates the collective conscience of the citizens of the U.S., who value civil liberties and freedom from government intrusion.

This is a significant concern, and many citizens are not willing to accept the need for a card providing too much power and information to the government, especially if it has a high cost to civil liberties and a low reward for combating terrorism.

Commentators have pointed out that a national ID card would probably not have had much of an effect on the 9/11 attacks, given the fact that many of the individuals involved were lawfully in the U.S at the time.

Furthermore, the use of biometric identifiers has never been used on such a wide scale, and the reliability and credibility of the system would be in doubt.

There is much less resistance to the idea of tracking and maintaining information on non-citizens in the U.S., and there may be less resistance to an ID card for a defined industry segment such as the transportation industry.

We will have to see what happens with this transportation worker identification card.

If it is implemented, and extended to Canadian truckers as well, it may become one big step on the road to an enhanced Immigration identification card for all foreign visitors and residents in the U.S.

Daniel Joyce can be reached at Hirsch and Joyce, Attorneys at Law, at 716-564-2727.


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