DHS: Private sector could capture advance data for security screening
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering letting the private sector collect additional trade data useful for identifying container shipments at high risk for being exploited by terrorists to smuggle weapons and other devices, a top policymaker said Wednesday.
“The bottom line is we are thinking about how the private sector can play a greater role in data management” to augment the government’s automated systems for collecting manifest information from carriers, as well as processing imports and exports, said Elaine Dezenski, acting assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy and planning, in a speech during the Maritime Security Expo and Conference in New York.
Dezenski's comments represent the public’s first glimpse into the department’s Secure Freight Initiative, which Secretary Chertoff announced in mid-July as part of a wide-ranging effort to restructure and improve departmental policies and operations. Chertoff provided little detail beyond the general intent of the program to capture historical information about cargo shipments for targeting purposes, a goal that appears to build on the Advance Trade Data Initiative being tested by Customs and Border Protection to get information from importers earlier in the supply chain.
Under Secure Freight, DHS is rethinking the rules and responsibilities between the government and the private sector as it relates to sharing information generated throughout the supply chain and using it to make better decisions about which international cargo is safe to admit into the country, Dezenski said.
“What we are looking at now is we are rethinking that concept” of having companies dump all their trade-related information into systems such as the Automated Commercial Environment, Dezenski said.
The idea is “to let the private sector manage that process and then let the government take what information it needs.
“Not that the government wouldn’t collect data, but that we would be relying perhaps a bit more heavily on the private sector to manage some of that process, and then it would be our role to take good information we think we need to make a better risk assessment,” she said.
Dezenski’s comments raise the possibility of using third-party clearinghouses to capture broader trade information than is currently collected by the government.
The concept of a third party clearinghouse for trade data is also being discussed by some banks as a potential service that could help industry and government manage the terrorist risk associated with cargo shipments, by acting as an independent rating service similar to the way Equifax acts as a independent credit rating service, said Thomas Wilson, Houston-based managing director for global trade management at BearingPoint consultants, in a presentation later in the day.
The idea is to create a unique reference number for each consignment and feed insurance information, cargo bookings, invoice data, manifests and other commercial documents through electronic data interchanges to an independent entity to determine a risk rating for each container. The information would allow ocean carriers, for example, to make decisions about which containers to accept or on which vessels to place them, Wilson said.
Shippers who take stringent steps to make sure their cargo is sterile so that it is not held up for inspection by customs authorities are no longer going to tolerate carriers who cause their cargo to be delayed because it was loaded on a ship with contaminated shipments that need to be offloaded, said Jerry Cook, vice president of government and trade relations for Sara Lee Branded Apparel.
Wilson said a rating agency can at least reduce the risk for a carrier by helping it decide which cargo to put on an 8,000-TEU ship versus a 4,000-TEU ship. Cargo with a lower score might go on the smaller ship and thus reduce the collateral impact on other shippers if a ship has to be held to inspect a suspicious container.