NEW YORK – A biometric identification card being tested at 34 of the nation's ports of entry may become the government-worker identification card of the future.
But some groups are wary of the tamper-proof credential, saying users' privacy must be protected. Others say the card may not go far enough.
"This card is designed to eradicate the need for lots of different pieces of security and hopefully create a standard that will be recognizable," said Peter Kant, senior vice president of Jefferson Consulting Group (search), which represents many firms dealing with container security, transportation security, identification credentialing and explosive detection.
"I would not go as far to say that the way it's currently designed would be the most secure possible, but it is more secure than what we have now, which, in my opinion, is basically nothing," Kant said.
A prototype of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (search) (TWIC) is being used in three regions of the country: in the Northeast, Camden, N.J., Islip, N.Y., Philadelphia, Pa., and Wilmington, Del.; in California, at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach; and in Florida, at 14 major port facilities. Participation is voluntary and includes truckers, longshoremen and container-terminal and airport personnel.
"It's basically to make sure we can issue a uniform credential to these sites and increase the level of security at these sites," said Gordon Hannah, a senior manager with BearingPoint and the technical lead on the current phase of the project.
BearingPoint was awarded a $12 million contract from the Transportation Security Administration (search) to design and implement the prototype, which up to 200,000 workers will receive. If it's successful, the card could be expanded to other locations.
"With biometrics and credentials, you have the ability to basically stage a number of factors you want the individual to use to access a controlled area," Hannah told FOXNews.com. TWIC tells "who you are, what you have and what you know."
TSA officials say they hope TWIC will reduce the need for multiple cards being used by truckers and other workers in charge of transporting material. Currently, businesses have to pay fees to get their workers credentialed to gain access to different facilities. The more credentials needed, the greater the expense for businesses.
"TWIC is a significant enhancement that will prevent terrorists and other unauthorized persons from gaining access to sensitive areas of the nation's transportations system," Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. "Developing the prototype for this new technology is another step in TSA's continuing effort to enhance security in all modes of transportation."
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, many calls were made to boost security at ports of entry throughout the United States and find ways to ensure that people gaining access to potentially vulnerable facilities weren't terrorists. TWIC is one step being taken by the federal government to make sure people trying to access these locations are who they say they are.
Here's how TWIC works: Workers enroll in an account with either their employer or the locations they will access. During the enrollment process, applicants need to show valid forms of identification such as a driver's license or passport. Their names are crosschecked with various terrorist databases, most notably TSA's "no fly list" (search). Workers cleared for enrollment have their fingerprints and photograph taken, then their credential is issued. The card is swiped through a reader at the given facility, and if the credential is approved, the worker can gain access.
"The concept is, if I can automate that process of checking an individual's credentials, I may be able to get them through the gate quicker and I may not need as many guards at the gate for that process," Hannah said.
But given the history of other identification security projects launched by TSA and other agencies, such as the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (search) and Secure Flight (search), which have been highly criticized by privacy groups, some are wary of TWIC and how the information gained for the card is used.
"As the TWIC is implemented, we want to ensure that workers' privacy rights and due process are protected," said Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department (search). "The TWIC should be part of a larger strategy to enhance transportation security, rather than a vehicle for improper motives or draconian purposes."
Kant said privacy concerns surrounding any security project like this are paramount, and a solution to how to protect one's privacy 100 percent has yet to be found.
"One of the big areas they need to continue to work on, some big unanswered questions are privacy concerns," he said.
But Hannah said the utmost precautions are being taken to protect the credential holder and his or her personal information.
"We've very closely followed the government's guidelines on privacy and how to use a person's information," he said, adding that BearingPoint is collecting the "absolute minimum" information necessary and has implemented a consent form that clearly identifies what the information is being collected for and how it will be used.
"There are obviously severe repercussions if any of that trust is violated," Hannah said.
While Hannah said support for TWIC at the sites and from the mobile workforce has been great and that the process behind the credential could serve as a standard for a more uniform government-worker card, Kant said it may not necessarily be the ID card of the future. He noted that a worker who needs access to a shipping port, for example, doesn't necessarily need access to a critical infrastructure facility such as an energy or chemical plant.
"Whether TWIC will turn into what cards will be like for other government employees, I think, is a long ways off and because of that, just in this whole industry of secure cards, secure industry, secure credential — it's very much in the air on how the government is going to go about this," Kant said.