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The Identity Chip goes into use at U.S. ports

22 March, 2009

“Do maritime security ‘smart cards’ defy common sense?” a story in today’s Los Angeles Times asks.  The story, written by Bob Drogin, focuses on the instances of this plan which border on silliness:   a slow ferry which crosses a small river between two Chesapeake Bay towns; and a mule-drawn tourist boat near, Easton, PA.

There are also instances of poor planning on the part of Homeland Security:  an Independent driver’s association, representing  160,000 truck drivers who can’t find places to park near the Office Tower in Kansas City, Missouri where they must register; or putting the office in San Francisco in the middle of the financial district and expecting 20,000 dockworkers to enrol.

The argument for the smart card is port safety.

But under a little-known domestic security program, the Bixlers and about 1.2 million other Americans and qualified visa holders must pay as much as $132.50 each to obtain a high-tech government ID card that certifies they are not maritime terrorists.

To get the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, each applicant undergoes a security threat assessment. Fingerprints and other details are checked against lists of known or suspected terrorists, major criminals and immigration violators. The card is valid for five years.


Congress mandated the program to tighten security around the nation’s ports. An 18-month registration drive is heading toward its final deadlines and largest ports: The new IDs will be required in New York harbor on Monday and in Houston, Los Angeles and Long Beach on April 14.

Congress thinks we will be safer if everyone near the docks is fingerprinted and has a background check and I do mean everyone: vendors, taxi drivers, and those people with ferry boats (but not the mules).

The requirement has drawn the most ridicule for netting bait salespeople, charter fishing boat skippers and others who don’t enter military bases, carry nuclear materials or otherwise pose an obvious threat to national security.

But there are no provisions to inspect the cargo, a plan which makes sense considering no one really knows what is coming into the country through the cargo containers.  That doesn’t make sense to me.

What worries me is that we are seeing more of these smart cards put into public use.

Homeland Security Department officials say the TWIC is the most comprehensive biometric smart card program in the world. (emphasis mine)  Each card carries a chip with an encrypted scan of the holder’s 10 fingerprints to confirm his or her identity.

I think its a great idea to tighten port security, to inspect cargo and ships, to use some of that fine military scanning equipment they have to identify the contents of a container, and to check the background of crew, and port workers.  I want to know that the federal government is protecting me from outside terrorists.  Even inside terrorists.

It’s just that my hackles raise when I read about the biometric smart card, as anyone who has read my earlier posts about them knows.  Eventually, those cards will be used in every possible terrorist threat site and so many people will have them that it will be like another driver’s license, except that it will carry far more information about you than your name, address, weight, height, age and photo.  In fact, it would be so easy to wait until we are so used to their presence that we won’t object when they become everyone’s identity cards. (or until we all have a chip implanted)

I’m not denying that I see it as an Orwellian move.

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