Twic Revisited

A consultant asks: Can it get its airport credentials back? The answer is ‘yes’


TSA is in Motion
According to Airports Council International-North America, TSA is “asking airports to provide a list of SIDA badge holders, sorted by company, that would also contain badge holder name, their employer, and badge expiration date.” Presumably, this is in preparation for the Aviation Credential Interoperable Solution (ACIS).

Is ACIS really TWIC with a new name? Or perhaps the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and TSA have joined up to resuscitate the Universal Access Card? Alternatively, this may be TSA repeating its mistakes of the past — trying to effect wholesale interoperability and biometrics at airports.

Whatever TSA’s motivation for the change, the airport community may have an opportunity to interact in the formation of ACIS and prevent creation of another unilateral TWIC.

TWIC (or ACIS) as the Cross-Credential
A federally issued identification card can, and should, be used to enable interoperation at airports. That does not mean that we should have only one credential. It is all right for airports to issue credentials for their premises. But a federal card such as TWIC or ACIS can be used to accelerate badge issuance while maintaining security. Should an employee wish to get a badge at another airport, he or she need only present the TWIC and verify their biometrics to receive a badge at the new airport. No second trip through the clearinghouse is needed.

A small amount of data integration will need to be organized by TSA. This would include:

  • a means for an airport security office to securely verify that a TWIC card is currently valid and notify TSA that it has issued a credential based on TWIC;
  • a means for TSA to issue revocation of a TWIC card to all airports that use that card as a cross-credential.

These simple, secure data exchanges are not difficult to implement and would have significant industry benefits.

Adding up the Benefits
Everyone wins with TWIC as a cross-credential. Let’s apportion the benefits out by stakeholder:

The Airport. The workload in the Security Office is reduced because TWIC holders get their badge in one visit, not two. Airport security is enhanced by having a better national revocation system and verification of an employee’s history at other airports. Airports get to keep their current badges, policies, and access control systems.

The Employee. Getting a badge in one trip instead of two would be a huge benefit to employees; the inconvenience would be cut in half and work hours lost would be significantly reduced. In the case of lost or stolen credentials, authentication using TWIC biometrics should speed up the issuance of a new badge, meaning less time off the job.

The Employer. The cost of getting badges is usually felt by the employer, be it the airport or an airport-based business. Costs would drop because employees spend less time getting badges, and pay less (or nothing) for badges at the second, third, and fourth airports.

The TSA. The government gets national revocation capability and better assurance that an employee at airport ‘A’ is the same individual as the employee at airport ‘B’.

TSA also gets a new mode for TWIC, which may prove useful when a TWIC-carrying trucker shows up to drop a load at the airport instead of the rail yard or ocean port. And, TSA can get a population of users with ACIS or TWIC cards in hand. When an airport goes to implement biometric-based access control, it can choose an ACIS-compatible system if it wishes to use the federal card as its SIDA badge. This is an evolutionary approach to achieving SIDA II.

* * *

This is one of those situations where everyone needs to take a step back for the good of the industry. TSA needs to back off of the notion that it will take over the form and function of all SIDA credentials. Airports need to work with TSA to achieve national revocation and biometric-based identity management. Employers and employees must work within the system rather than reinventing the system. Over time, Darwinian natural selection will show us how these conflicting goals are best achieved. In that context, maybe ACIS, the cross-credential, is our next evolutionary development.

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