DHS plans smart seals for containers

Early next year, the Homeland Security Department will unveil a program for smart container seals that guarantee shipments have not been tampered with after inspection at foreign ports.

The smart-seal program is part of the effort to ensure that no bombs or hazardous materials find their way into about 7 million containers arriving at U.S. ports each year, said Jayson P. Ahern, assistant commissioner of field operations for the Customs and Border Protection Bureau.

Speaking today at the E-Gov Homeland Security Conference in Washington, Ahern said a number of vendors are now testing smart-seal technologies. He said DHS will release more details about the program late next month.

Ahern declined to identify the technologies under evaluation but said they do not rely on real-time Global Positioning System tracking.

'I don't need that,' he said, 'but I do need to know, once a container has gone through inspection, whether the integrity of that container has been violated.'

The quest for a 'smart box' is part of the service's policy of pushing the nation's first line of defense farther away from U.S. borders.

The service physically inspects only 2 percent to 4 percent of containers arriving at U.S. seaports. Ahern said the goal is not to boost the number inspected but to inspect the right containers.

Ahern said an estimated 4,000 U.S. companies doing business overseas have enrolled in a program to establish security procedures for container validation by DHS inspectors. Such shippers would enjoy a trusted status.

DHS has inspectors at 16 of the top 20 foreign ports from which most goods are shipped to the United States. The department plans to put inspectors in three more ports in coming months, Ahern said.

(Click to link to more information about the container risk-screening system)

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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