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Viewpoint: Will TWIC ever become a reality?

To a journalist, a deadline is a deadline. To the bureaucrats at the Transportation Security Administration, one of the first US security agencies born after the 9/11 attacks, a deadline appears to be...


Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis


To a journalist, a deadline is a deadline. To the bureaucrats at the Transportation Security Administration, one of the first US security agencies born after the 9/11 attacks, a deadline appears to be nothing more than a suggestion – even, it seems, if it concerns an issue of international security and risks the ire of Congress.

Last year around this time we were warning that Canadian truck drivers working out of American ports would soon be expected to carry the TSA’s new Transport Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) or be denied access – or so we were led to believe.

At a hearing last month, TSA managers had to confess that enrollment for the TWIC program, expected to have begun by last spring, would be pushed back to the fall.

To say that US legislators are frustrated by the latest foot-dragging is quite the understatement.

Legislators may be frustrated but they certainly can’t be surprised. TWIC has been a tale of blunders, questionable decisions and missed deadlines since the US Congress legislated the need for TWIC into existence as part of the Maritime Transportation Security Act.

TWIC was initially supposed to be running by the end of 2003 and it was sure to have an impact on Canadian carriers moving goods to and from the US.

There were some positive spin-offs too: When implemented, TWIC was to make container moves into and out of US ports more streamlined. Also, TWIC-carded drivers would not need to worry about ethnic profiling.

Two integrated circuit chips were to be imbedded in each card containing a digital photograph as well as biographic and biometric data (a record of fingerprints), which would also make the ID very difficult to forge.

TWIC ID was to be considered enough to assure any law enforcement of the genuine identity of the driver and the fact that he or she is not a security or immigration threat.

But TWIC was never going to be the one-card system that industry groups in Canada and the US had been advising. It would have made more sense for the TSA to expand the FAST program to include a biometric measure and make those cards interchangeable with TWIC. But no one said government agencies operate on common sense.

Consider the comment of Rep. Rick Larsen: “There are a number of programs that involve biometrics, that are supposed to make us safer, and they can’t get anything right…I’m not yet convinced that all the time and pain that TSA has put in, and all that cost is going to give us all that much security benefit.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a program and a technology that is supposed to play a key role in securing the North American supply chain. Makes me wonder whether TWIC, if it ever really gets off the ground, has any long-term future.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at lou@TransportationMedia.ca.


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