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Government expands test of transportation worker identity card

(The Associated Press circulated the following article by Leslie Miller on November 17.)

WASHINGTON -- The government said Wednesday it is dramatically expanding testing of a high-tech ID system for transportation workers, and hopes to have 200,000 people in the program by next June. The biometric identification cards being tested by the Transportation Security Administration allow identities to be verified by matching such physical characteristics as fingerprints, handprints or eye scans. The cards will allow seaports, airports, railroads, public transit systems, energy facilities and trucking companies to control access to restricted areas.

The TSA said testing of the "Transportation Worker Identity Credential" began Wednesday at the Port of Long Beach, Calif., container terminal. Over the next seven months it will expand to 34 sites in Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and California.

TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser said the current test phase is designed to figure out how to run a nationwide credentialing system. Participation is voluntary.

"How do we enroll someone? How do we get them the card? How do they use the card in their daily life?" are some of the questions the TSA is trying to answer, Kayser said.

A handful of airports now use biometrics as a security measure. The technology also is used by employees in some hospitals, nuclear plants and even fast food restaurants.

The TSA hopes to eventually extend the program to workers in all modes of transportation, which could encompass as many as 6 million people.

Transportation workers would apply for the card by submitting fingerprints and other personal information, which will then be compared against the government's terrorist watch lists.

Barry Steinhardt, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, objects to using the watch lists to determine if people are terrorists. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the lists, saying some people who aren't terrorists are on them.

"We just can't keep checking people against lists that are a mess," Steinhardt said.

Under the program, "they may get denied a job for some non-terrorist, non-criminal reason," he said.

Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, said the union wants to make sure the cards don't erode workers' rights.

"We want to ensure that workers' due process and privacy rights are protected, and that the program is focused on enhancing security and not used for improper motives or draconian purposes," Wytkind said.

The TSA's Kayser said the agency is developing a robust redress process for the next phase of the program.

Workers at three other places -- the Philadelphia Maritime Exchange and the Port of Pensacola and Port Canaveral, both in Florida -- will soon get cards, the TSA said.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

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