Monday, May 21, 2012

Questions Posed Over Biometric Freight and Transport Systems

Doubts Raised Over Efficacy of Security Procedures
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – Biometrics has been one of the buzzwords of the last few years with the technology espoused as the last word in personal security whether it involves a road haulage driver delivering a container load of freight into a port or a traveller hopping between countries via international airports. Recently however doubts and concerns have been raised as to the efficacy of the systems currently being used by some of the facilities most vulnerable to attacks by terrorists.

London airports have come in for criticism lately following Border Agency problems and recent complaints in the press which have highlighted problems with the scanners or readers. One passport official speaking to a British citizen quoted a 15 to 20% reading failure rate and commented that the equipment at Schiphol Airport was different and had therefore accepted his document whilst a Dutch passenger had precisely the opposite problem, failure in Amsterdam and no problems in London.

From the 1st June even countries like Albania will be able to issue passports containing a citizen’s two fingerprints to confirm identity and one of the major fears is the problem of cloning. With more sophisticated systems, for example if a biometric system relies on RFID technology designed to be machine read only, it is relatively simple for a technically adept criminal to read the card from a short distance and transfer the details to a fake card which is less likely to be detected as it bears the identity of a truly vetted carrier.

Problems have now been highlighted in an area which is essential to cargo security with US House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica launching a withering attack on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency from the Department of Homeland Security created after the 911 attacks and charged with maintaining security of the travelling public including the national ports.

Now comes revelations that ports like Tampa, whose director Richard Wainio recently testified to a Homeland Securities House Committee, cannot use the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) programme as no suitable readers are available. In a recent interview Congressman Mica opined that after years have passed and around a billion dollars spent the TWIC system was currently completely unworkable, saying:

"This is a fiasco, they've (the TSA) issued two million and they don't have a reader that will read the card. It's unbelievable. We're gonna haul these folks in a couple of weeks. We'll have a thorough congressional hearing and another investigation into what's gone wrong.”

The Congressman also criticised the TSA after it was shown that access to the cards was simple and had allowed illegal immigrants to obtain them whilst those employed to implement and manage the readers had also not been properly vetted asking “Who screens the screeners?” and concluding:

“Sometimes, TSA or Homeland Security personnel haven't had their background checks and they themselves have a card that's flawed. It almost seems like a comic routine.”

Next year the law will require the use of the TWIC system in all ports of entry and exit yet currently most US ports apparently still rely on the older photocards issued to staff and visitors which many port security staff feel are an altogether safer system. Whilst not providing biometric evidence the older cards require a human presence to verify identity giving security personnel the opportunity to speak to drivers they are unfamiliar with, enabling them to ascertain exactly what their business is within the secure zone.