July 11, 2006

US gets strong response to port security program

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) has received more than 1,000 documents of
feedback on the new rules for workers entering domestic ports,
which include fingerprinting and conducting background checks,
a TSA spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

In late April, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) implemented the Transportation Worker Identification
Credential (TWIC) program, which included name-based background
checks on nearly 400,000 port workers in the United States.

The public was allowed 45 days to submit feedback on the
next phase of the program, and the public comment period ended
on July 6.

TSA would collect workers' biographical information
including 10 fingerprints, name, date of birth, address, phone
number, alien registration number if applicable, photo,
employer and job title.

This will affect all people with unescorted access to port
facilities and vessels, raising the number of workers subject
to the security screening to up to 850,000 maritime port
transportation workers.

The feedback covered various aspects of the TWIC program,
said Ann Davis, the TSA spokeswoman

"We will be having discussions with stakeholders at the
port terminals and facilities in the coming months," she said.

"One of our aims is to preserve the free flow of commerce,
and roll out the TWIC program in a practical manner."

Some maritime industry sources pointed to the need for a
delicate balance between tight security and high port
efficiency, but they expressed two main concerns about the TWIC

One is the efficiency of the biometric technology to be
used for fingerprinting, and the other is a possible drop in
port efficiency.

Ezra Finkin, legislation director at The Waterfront
Coalition, said that the TWIC program could conflict with an
impending bill in California seeking a fine for idling trucks
at the state ports.

"The TWIC program could cause port entry delay if truck
drivers have to get down from their trucks to be fingerprinted
or the screening machines break down," he said.

This may lead to truckers paying fines for idling at the
ports in California. The West Coast ports of Los Angeles and
Long Beach handle the largest container imports in the country.

Also, some industry sources expressed concerns about the
selection of biometric technology for fingerprinting and the
impact of the program on illegal aliens working in the trucking

"Some ship mariners and port workers have greasy and dirty
fingers, and there are concerns about how the technology will
handle that situation," an industry source said, adding that
this may lead to delays and long lines.

She said it remained unknown how the machines would hold up
against high salt content in the air at the ports.

As for illegal aliens in the trucking industry, some
industry sources estimated about 20 to 40 percent of the truck
drivers could be affected, potentially squeezing the already
limited supply of truck drivers.

The TSA spokeswoman declined to comment on the estimated
percentage of illegal truck drivers in the United States.