Secure Access with TWIC Card

The Transportation Worker Identification Credential, known as TWIC, provides a tamper-resistant biometric card for workers requiring unescorted access to secure areas of maritime facilities and vessels. Implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Coast Guard, the TWIC program enhances security and ensures individuals who pose a threat do not gain access to sensitive locations. This article will examine the TWIC program, including obtaining the card, using the card, program benefits and challenges, potential future improvements, and the evolution of the credentialing system.

Introduction to the TWIC Card

The TWIC program emerged after 9/11 as part of efforts to improve security and reduce threats to key transportation infrastructure, including seaports. TWIC provides a common identification credential that can be used across the maritime sector, replacing the need for individual facilities or companies to issue their access cards. It also institutes a centralized vetting process, requiring applicants to pass a security threat assessment.

The TWIC credential is issued by TSA and the Coast Guard to workers who require unescorted access to secure areas of the following:

  • Maritime facilities and terminals
  • Vessels, including cargo ships, towboats, offshore oil rigs
  • Outer Continental Shelf facilities located offshore

This includes longshoremen, truckers, port employees, merchant mariners, surveyors, and any other individual needing such access. The biometric card ensures that only authorized workers gain entry to restricted areas through a standardized, verifiable means of identity and security validation.

Implementation of the TWIC Program

The TWIC program was implemented in a joint effort between the TSA, Coast Guard, and industry stakeholders. There was a phased rollout across the United States from 2007 to 2009. This included the following:

Phase 1 – Enrollment at commissioning sites: Workers could enrol and provide biometric and biographic information at designated locations.

Phase 2 – Card issuance: Upon passing the security threat assessment, applicants were issued a personalized TWIC card encoded with their credentials.

Phase 3 – Card reader implementation: Card readers were installed at maritime facilities to inspect and authenticate the TWIC cards before granting access. This phase is still ongoing.

This phased approach allowed for a managed transition towards increased security measures across the diverse maritime sector.

Obtaining a TWIC Card

Gaining access to a TWIC card requires meeting certain eligibility criteria, enrolling, and passing a security threat assessment. Here is an overview of the process:

Eligibility Requirements

To enrol for a TWIC card, individuals must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • U.S. citizen, national, or lawful permanent resident
  • Cannot have certain criminal convictions or found to be linked to terrorist activity
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Interim disqualifying offences include other felonies, violent crimes, and misdemeanour firearms crimes. Individuals may request an exemption for certain interim offences through an appeals process.

Before enrollment, applicants can check if they meet the eligibility criteria using the online TWIC Disqualification Self Assessment tool. This helps individuals determine if they need to apply for a waiver before proceeding.

Enrollment and Application Process

To enrol for a TWIC card, workers must complete the following steps:


  • Check eligibility using an online self-assessment tool
  • Make an appointment at an enrollment center
  • Gather required documentation:
    • Identity documentation such as a passport or driver’s license
    • Citizenship documentation such as a birth certificate or permanent resident card

Day of enrollment

  • Arrive at the designated enrollment center
  • Provide required documentation to the Trusted Agent for verification
  • Enrol:
    • Provide biographic information
    • Get fingerprint scans captured
    • Sit for a facial photograph
  • Pay the required enrollment fee

After enrollment

  • Wait for security threat assessment results
    • TSA conducts a background check against criminal history and terrorist databases
  • If approved, wait for the card to be produced and delivered to the provided address
  • The card has a 5 year validity period

The current fee is $125.25 for a 5-year credential. Replacement cards cost $60.

Using the TWIC Card

Once an individual has obtained their TWIC card, it can be used to access MTSA-regulated facilities and vessels. Here are some key features of how the cards are used:

Card Features and Technology

The TWIC card has several security features and embedded technology:

  • The tamper-resistant design makes it difficult to counterfeit
  • An integrated circuit chip stores the cardholder’s information
  • Magnetic stripe and barcode encode the credential ID
  • Photo ID provides a facial image for visual validation
  • Holographic images provide visual security features

The credential uses the following technologies:

  • Biometric template using the individual’s fingerprint
  • Encryption and digital signature prevents tampering with data
  • Card authentication can verify the card’s validity

Together, these features ensure the TWIC card cannot be easily reproduced or falsified.

Card Readers

Card readers provide an additional level of security by validating the TWIC card and cardholder before granting access. Readers were to be implemented in a phased approach:

  • Initially, visual inspection of TWIC cards was used
  • Eventually, electronic card authentication via readers will be required
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When implemented, card readers will:

  • Validate the biometric template using a fingerprint scan
  • Check the credentials against the TWIC revocation list
  • Display an authorization result to allow or deny access

To use a TWIC card reader, an individual will:

  • Place their TWIC card on the reader surface
  • Put their finger on the biometric scanner for fingerprint match
  • If authorized, the system displays approval and records entry

Access Procedures

Access using the TWIC card follows certain procedures:

Visual card inspection

  • Security personnel visually check the TWIC card:
    • Signs of physical tampering
    • Match the photo to the individual
    • Verify the expiration date

Card authentication

  • Individuals place TWIC cards on the reader
  • Scanner reads credentials and validates biometrics via fingerprint
  • If authorized, access to a secure area is granted

The following inspection

  • The individual can proceed into the restricted area
  • The access control system logs the entry for auditing purposes

Revoked credentials

  • If an individual has a revoked TWIC card, access is denied
  • The TSA maintains a centralized revocation list that is updated regularly

By following these procedures using the TWIC card, facilities can ensure that only authorized individuals gain access to restricted areas.

Management and Oversight

Proper management and oversight are required to implement and maintain an effective TWIC program.

Facility management responsibilities

  • Set access control policies for their location
  • Designate TWIC-restricted areas
  • Procure and install TSA-approved TWIC readers
  • Ensure personnel are properly trained on inspection procedures

Government oversight

  • TSA and Coast Guard co-manage the TWIC program
  • Conduct audits and inspections to enforce compliance
  • Update technologies and requirements for card readers
  • Maintain the centralized credential revocation list

With appropriate oversight, the TWIC card program enhances security while allowing efficient access for credentialed maritime workers.

Advantages and Challenges of TWIC

The TWIC card program provides important benefits for security, though ongoing challenges need to be addressed.

Benefits of the TWIC Program

There are several advantages to implementing the standardized TWIC credential:

Enhanced security

  • Prevent unauthorized access to secure areas
  • Biometric authentication validates credentials

Safety compliance

  • Meets regulatory requirements for port facilities
  • Provides auditable access control and entry logs


  • Eliminates the need for various port-specific ID cards
  • Allows streamlined access control and auditing


  • The phased implementation allows the transition to new requirements
  • Integrates with existing access control systems

By enhancing security and efficiency, the TWIC program provides value for maritime facilities and workers when implemented effectively.

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Challenges and Critiques

However, there have been some challenges and critiques of the TWIC program:

Implementation delays

  • Full deployment of readers delayed for years beyond the original timeline

Reader operation difficulties

  • Environmental factors affect fingerprint scans
  • Connectivity issues impact reader effectiveness

Enrollment barriers

  • Difficulties for some workers in obtaining the credential
  • Financial burden of enrollment fees and replacement costs

Privacy concerns

  • Collection of personal and biometric data
  • Potential misuse of access logs and tracking

Ongoing work is still required to streamline and improve TWIC execution, addressing these pain points.

The Future of TWIC

While progress has been made, there are further opportunities to enhance the TWIC program through technology and oversight improvements.

Potential Improvements

Some possibilities for improving the TWIC system include:

Enhancing reader functionality

  • Adding PIN verification or mobile one-time passwords
  • Further automating the authorization decision process

Integrating additional technologies

  • Incorporating smartphone NFC capabilities for identification
  • Combining TWIC with Port Security Grant technologies

Expanding beyond maritime

  • Adapting program for other transport workers like truckers
  • Implementing for airport workers or hazmat carriers

By leveraging future technological capabilities, TWIC security and usability can be strengthened.

Evolution of the Program

In the long term, the TWIC program may evolve through expansion, consolidation, and updated policies.

Broader TSA oversight and unification

  • Extending oversight across transport modes
  • Consortium of agencies and industries for input

Transitioning credentialing function

  • Shift issuing body from government to privatized entity
  • Allow integration with other credentials

Revisiting program requirements

  • Review the need for certain permanent disqualifying offences
  • Examine other eligibility policies

As requirements and technologies change, the TWIC program will need to be updated, shifting towards more unified and flexible credentialing systems.


The TWIC card program provides workers validated access to secure maritime facilities and vessels through biometric identification. While implementation has faced challenges, the credential fills an important security gap exposed after 9/11. TWIC has enhanced the access control process for ports through centralized vetting.

Going forward, there are opportunities to increase TWIC’s effectiveness and evolve the program to match advancements in technology and policy. With appropriate improvements and oversight, TWIC can continue serving its vital role in maritime security while ensuring accessibility for the transportation workforce. By harnessing innovations while balancing implementation realities, the promise of TWIC can be fully achieved.

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