DHS may target small boats for RFID

The nation's 18 million recreational boaters may need to register their crafts in a national database and place radio frequency identification tags on their vessels under plans put forth by a stakeholders group convened by the Homeland Security Department.

The new identification and security possibilities are outlined in the report from the DHS National Small Vessel Security Summit, published by the department and recently posted on its Web site. The report was written for DHS by Charles Brownstein, task force leader of the Homeland Security Institute, a nonprofit research group.

The department invited 260 people from the private and commercial boating community and government agencies to the first small vessel summit in June to identify and develop recommendations for recreational-boat security. Terrorism experts have identified a threat to U.S. coastlines and security from possible smuggling of materials and terrorists in such vessels.

The summit report indicates disagreement among recreational boaters on whether and how to use technologies for identification and registration. Recreational boaters participating in the summit objected to expanding the Automatic Identification System run by the Coast Guard to include small craft because it would be costly and impractical. The system currently applies to commercial boats over 65 feet in length.

But the boaters left the door open for limited use of the identification system, for RFID tags on vessels and for the Coast Guard's Vessel Identification System national boat registration system.

"Some stakeholders did see limited application for the Automated Identification System or similar technology in the vicinity of high-value/high-risk assets within limited geographic bounds in a port or waterway. The Vessel Identification System, RFID technologies and other systems were also mentioned as potential low-cost solutions that might be an acceptable alternative to vessel tracking," the report said.

Similarly controversial were expanding requirements for operator identification and vessel registration. The boaters were worried about inappropriate requirements that infringe on their civil liberties, cost too much and are too inconvenient, the report said.

Boaters were opposed to new identification requirements as well, but government executives participating in the summit seemed to favor that solution, the report said.

"Several government attendees advocated the development of a nationwide database of U.S. numbered and documented vessels to be used by federal, state and local law enforcement authorities to access boat registration information across the country. They also expressed a need to have uniform boating registration standards shared by all states," the report said.

The stakeholders also made recommendations for fusion centers to share maritime intelligence, improved situational awareness for boaters, more mechanisms to report suspicious activity and expanded use of technologies to identify radiological and nuclear threats.

If the plans move forward, many of the ideas outlined by the stakeholders group present opportunities for contractors involved in database management, identification management, identity cards, information sharing and RFID. There also may be opportunities for biometrics, systems integrators and other information technology solutions providers.

The Coast Guard hosted a Great Lakes Small Vessel Security Summit in Cleveland on Jan. 15.

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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