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Debate Rages Over Port Security Technology

Bush administration critics worry that high-tech devices and strategies, such as biometrics, RFID, and radiation sensor technology being installed at ports could fall into the wrong hands.

Today, the U.S. DHS funds and organizes projects involving shipments into the three major U.S. ports: Seattle-Tacoma, Los Angeles/Long Beach and New York/New Jersey.

Other ports are rolling out technology, too, to secure entry ways into the U.S. Although Customs and Border Patrol uses large-scale x-ray and gamma ray machines and radiation detection devices to pre-screen cargo coming into this country, experts wonder if selling terminals to the United Arab Emeritus will put port security is at risk.

The Committee on Foreign Investment (CIFIUS), made up of several U.S. agencies approved the deal. It's chaired by the Department of Treasury and includes USTR, and the Departments of Commerce, State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security. "Technology has moved so fast that the law needs brushing up," said Helen Bentley, a former Maryland congresswoman and port consultant. "CIFIUS was created approximately 18 years ago. How can you follow procedures that old?"

When CIFIUS receives notice of a proposed acquisition, it has 30 days to decide whether to undertake an investigation. If an investigation is undertaken, CIFIUS must make its formal report to the President within 45 days. The President then has 15 days to render a decision.

Chinese, Singapore and United Kingdom companies own U.S. port terminals. So, is the growing criticism about the deal to transfer control of several major U.S. port terminals from a British company to one owned by the Dubai government warranted?

"I don't have an answer, but it raises several questions that should be investigated further," said Erik Michielsen, director of RFID and M2M at ABI Research. "For people to red flag this sale and make a split yes or no decision is inappropriate. We need to look more closely at the international company to better understand how they will manage and regulate security domestically."

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