Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
This month the USA starts its next round of prototype testing of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), a secretly and remotely readable RFID/biometric ID card which 12 million or more workers in the passenger and freight transportation industry and in the vicinity of transsportation facilities will eventually be required by the government to obtain, carry, and use for access to their workplaces.
Most of us are, for most of our lives, workers as well as consumers, but somehow workers are often thought of as "others", not as ourselves, and entitled to less than equal rights.
Under existing legal doctrines in the USA, we have fewer privacy and free-speech rights in our workplaces than at most other times. Since we have so little vacation in the USA (for more on that, and how to change it, see here and here), many of us spend the majority of our waking hours on the job. Workplace levels of privacy rights and civil liberties are thus the real norm of how free we are (or aren't), not the exception.
The TWIC program is a threat to us all, not just to transportation workers, and especially those of us who travel -- which means especially those of you likely to be reading this blog.
The earliest description of the TWIC program I've been able to find is a 23 January 2002 draft Concept Paper prepared by the "Credentialing Direct Action Group" (CDAG), which was created by the Department of Transportation after 11 September 2001. These portions of the authority of the DOT were later reorganized into the Department of Homeland Security as part of the TSA.
According to the CDAG "Functional Requirements" document:
The focus of the CDAG's solution was on workers in the transportation system, while achieving sufficient flexibility to accommodate future needs to address identification of users of the transportation system.
In other words, the TWIC program was conceived and planned from the start as a prototype for mandatory identification and personal tracking systems that could eventually be imposed on travellers ("users of the transportation system").
The first round of TWIC testing last year involved airport and maritime facilities in the Delaware River and Bay (PA/NJ/DE) and Los Angeles and Long Beach (CA) areas. The next round of tests will involve up to 100,000 workers in those locations as well as at deepwater ports throughout the state of Florida in a Federal/state partnership prompted by a Florida law mandating a single credential for access to all the state's ports. Concerned that tourists worried about cruise port security might take their vacation dollars elsewhere, Florida has chosen to sell out the civil liberties of its own citizens working on the docks, in order to pander to the "Homeland Security" fears of out-of-state visitors.
The general idea behind the TWIC is that all transportation workers throughout the USA, including workers at air and sea ports and public transit facilities, highway and railroad and pipeline workers, truckers, and operators of any vehicle carrying passengers for hire, would have their biometric data recorded in a central database and be issued a single machine-readable card which would be used to control access to all transport factilities and vehicles. Presumably the "biometric" data would consist of digital photographs and fingerprints, although that hasn't been spelled out, most likely because the TSA hasn't wanted to face the backlash from announcing that it wants to fingerprint all taxi, truck, and bus drivers, road and rail and longshore workers, etc.
Regardless of any use or effectiveness for access control, the TWIC program seems to have been designed to maximize its potential for surveillance and monitoring of workers' movements, in keeping with its development by an industry/government partnership (not, as it might have been and as was suggested by workers' organizations, by an industry/government/worker partnership).
One of the locations in which the TWIC prototype was tested was an International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) union hall in Southern California, according to both a TSA stakeholder brief (25 December 2003) on the TWIC project and a 2 March 2004 presentation by the TSA to the Ship Operations Cooperative Program, "an industry-government partnership to enhance the U.S. maritime industry".
Members and officiers of other ILWU locals who I have told about this have been unaware, and shocked, that this had happened. It's unclear if union officers were aware that the goverment was controlling and logging who entered their union hall, whether -- and if so, why -- they gave their permission, and whether Federal labor laws may have been violated if it was done without the union's knowledge and consent.
The Privacy Act notice for the TWIC database (68 Federal Register 495007-49509, 18 August 2003) purports to place some restrictions on how the government can use the TWIC records of workers fingerprints, photos, and movements.
But by their nature RFID tags can be secretly read from up to 6 feet (2 meters) or more away, and employers are free to place (or hide) their own readers wherever on their facilities they want to monitor who passes within range, and when.
Since the TWIC cards are required to comply with the public Government Smart Card Interoperability Specification (GSCIS), anyone who gets within range with a reader (a fist-sized box costing a few hundred dollars) will be able to read and log the unique number on each card.
Use of the RFID chips ("smart cards") in general, and the GSCIS format in particular, also maximizes the potential for government mission creep. While the TSA tested prototypes of TWIC cards using alternate technologies (magnetic strips, two-dimensional printed bar code blocks, etc.) that can't be secretly or remotely read, and thus have much less potential for abuse, it's clear from the 23 January 2002 draft Concept Paper that the real intent from the start was to use "SmartCards" (RFID chips) -- precisely because they would facilitate expansion of the program and its uses:
1. The Card:
- SmartCard technology would be used to manage the information on the card as a means of controlling access to that information and as a means of ensuring the integrity of the information.
- The SmartCard architecture will incorporate, to the maximum extent practicable standards, which allow maximum interoperability across hardware and software platforms. This will facilitate use of the card both domestically and for international enforcement regimes.
- The TWIC would incorporate a reliable and standard biometric (to be determined by the Transportation Security Administration)....
- The TWIC would incorporate GSA Smart Card Interoperability.
All this goes directly against what transport workers had clearly stated in the official comments to the government on the TWIC pilot program by the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TDD), the ILWU, the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (also available here in alternate format with a list of the members of the TDD):
[W]e believe it is imperative that provisions for TWIC be promulgated that prohibit employers from using the TWIC card or system for other than the designated purpose, namely the positive identification of port workers and visitors. The regulations should specifically prohibit employers from utilizing TWIC as a means for employee discipline and other labor-management issues, including collective bargaining.
As long as workers are required by government order to carry TWIC cards that contain secretly and remotely readable RFID chips with unique identifiers, and as long as employers or others are free to place RFID readers wherever they like and use the data however they like, limitations on the government's direct use of TWIC data will have little value to workers.
It remains to be seen how the deployment of TWIC radio tracking tags will be challenged by transport workers. But in resisting and opposing TWIC, they are standing up for the freedom to move without government tracking of all workers and travellers -- on and off the job -- and they desrve our fullest solidarity. The first people to be subjected to this tracking are transport workers, but the government and industry are already on record that all of us who travel will be the next to be "chipped".