Port Security Under Scrutiny

December 10, 2001

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Truckers who haul containers in and out of the nation's ports may face increased headaches as a result of tighter security measures, including criminal background checks and identification cards.

Last week, port security was the subject of a hearing by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. With a huge percentage of the commercial goods sold in this country passing through seaports, security at ports is a concern. A study last year of the nation's 12 largest ports concluded that security generally ranges from poor to fair. Only 2 percent of containers coming through all U.S. ports are inspected, causing officials to worry that intermodal containers could be packed with the tools of terrorism.
Three years ago, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., introduced a package of port security measures, at the time targeting drug smugglers. That legislation has been revised to focus on terrorism and calls for criminal background checks for port workers and better reporting of cargo contents.
At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a task force put together by the mayor wants to require ID cards and doing criminal background checks, including fingerprinting, for port truckers and dockworkers. Workers would be put into an employee database. However, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union opposes background checks, fearing that members who committed crimes many years ago will suddenly be out of work. Many of the port truckers are immigrants, some of them undocumented, so it could cause problems for them, as well.
On the other side of the country, a new Florida law that takes effect Jan. 1 will require all truckers who pick up or drop off loads at the state's ports to have photo identification badges and undergo background checks. It applies to both in-state and out-of-state truckers who serve the ports.

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