Policy group urges RFID use to thwart terrorists

Use of radio frequency identification tracking technologies and 24-hour remote sensor systems on shipping containers not only would boost port security but also would have significant commercial benefits, according to a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California.

The government should encourage such dual-use technologies, both for security and commercial gain, because such investments are the most likely way to improve port security, the study said.

"Profit-seeking investments by private-sector shippers, carriers and port operators to enhance the efficiency of the global containerized supply chain may do more to prevent terrorist groups from using container shipping as a conveyor of weapons of mass destruction than will investments targeted at the outset specifically to the security threat," the study said.

Outfitting containers with advanced RFID tracking and sensors is likely to cost $500 to $1,200 per container -- about $15 billion for the entire U.S. container fleet -- the report said. However, as the equipment can be used for up to five years, the annual cost would be about $200 per container.

The 296-page report offers an overview of port security, including arguments for the need to balance security and costs. Ports are using new and developing security technologies, including sensors, identification and authentication IT, and tracking and inspection technologies. The federal government should do more to encourage research and development in these areas, the report said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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