The Transportation Security Administration is beginning to discuss the types of improvements it may want to make in future smart credentials that are currently being used to provide more security at the nation’s seaports.

Discussions around the “next-generation” Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) are still in the early stages but the changes are “on the horizon,” John Schwartz, the TWIC program manager within the TSA, says this month at an IDGA biometrics conference.

Those changes will include things like increased memory in the card’s computer chip to enable it to do more, Schwartz says. It will also include certificate signatures but all of the talk is “still in the early phases,” he says.

TWIC cards are used to store the holder’s name, digital photo, two fingerprints, and the expiration date. For the most part, they currently are used like flash passes to enter secure areas of ports although security personnel with portable, biometric-enabled card readers randomly check to verify that the cards belong to the card holders.

In some cases fixed card readers are in place but the regulations around readers have not been finalized. The Coast Guard, which is TSA’s partner on the TWIC program, is expected to release the final regulatory rule for TWIC readers in the coming months although government officials at the IDGA conference indicated that the timeframe could slip to later this year.

The Coast Guard is responsible for the reader regulations and enforcing them.

Even though the final reader rule hasn’t been published, there are currently five readers that are on a qualified technology list for TWIC. Four of the readers, two from Intellicheck Mobilisa [IDN] and two from MorphoTrak, which is a unit of the Safran Group, are portable. Schneider Electric has a qualified fixed reader.

Port and terminal operators will be required to purchase the readers for use to secure certain secure areas of ports and terminals. The readers automate card validation and verification, increase accuracy, help protect against forgeries, and replace the visual inspection method that is now largely in place.

Although the final reader rule hasn’t been published, port and terminal operators are encouraged to purchase readers from the qualified technology list, says Gerry Smith, a subject matter expert for the TWIC program who is with the consulting firm ID Technology Partners.