DHS drops cargo seal proposal for alternative security measures
The Department of Homeland Security officially pronounced dead Thursday a rule in the works for nearly two years that would have required exporters to apply a high-security seal on every container, and ocean carriers to check they were still secure at the port prior to vessel loading.
Jayson Ahern, an assistant commissioner at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the idea to mandate the use of a hard-bolt mechanical seal on ocean containers has “outlived its usefulness” as technology and policies evolve that give the agency more efficient ways to verify that no one has tampered with the container.
Addressing the Commercial Operations Advisory Committee, the department’s industry sounding board on trade issues, Ahern said, “I won’t apologize for our slowness on it. Please respect that we are trying to be very deliberate in making sure that this is something that is valuable, doesn’t add increased costs to the trade and actually is something that we can use effectively to demonstrate supply chain security.”
CBP continues to evaluate the potential for using an internal container security device to detect unauthorized door openings and other types of electronic seal technologies, but has not yet found an automated solution that can notify CBP when tampering has occurred, Ahern said.
“Until we have confidence about what’s in the box” by validating supply chains with more advance shipping data and checks of foreign suppliers through the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, “putting a device on the outside may or may not add much to security,” Ahern said. Shipments from companies about which CBP knows little about will still need to be scanned by imaging machines whether or not there is a seal, CBP officials contend.
At the previous COAC meeting in May, a CBP official said the department was sitting on the rule to make sure it wasn’t superseded by new cargo security legislation being considered by Congress. Ahern suggested at the time that a mechanical seal may not provide “meaningful security.”
When CBP finds a device that accurately indicates that a container has been breeched it will look to apply it as a best practice for companies that voluntarily participate in C-TPAT. CBP could even create a Tier 4 level within C-TPAT for companies that opt to use the device. C-TPAT companies can achieve Tier 3 status, and receive the highest level of trade facilitation benefits, by implementing industry-specific best practices approved by CBP.
CBP is testing container security devices under its so-called Smart Box program. The agency has proposed that a container that can be wirelessly queried about tampering events would be the basis for its C-TPAT Green Lane program for providing near inspection-free treatment to trusted shippers.
GE Security contends that its CommerceGuard container security device is ready for commercial use, but CBP continues to raise issues about false-positive levels.
Ahern’s comments followed a briefing about the Transportation Security Administration’s draft user guide on container and trailer seals for domestic cargo. The manual describes how organizations should develop and maintain a seal control program that covers everything from distribution, installation, verification, and tracking. The TSA based its handbook on a cargo pilferage prevention manual developed by the Department of Defense. The document has been adapted for the commercial world.
TSA official Nick Lakis said the Coast Guard and CBP have provided input based on their experience with international containers and asked COAC to offer recommendations in an effort to make international and domestic seal protocols as consistent as possible.