Customs Officials To Thwart Terrorists Through Cargo Standards

Technology is a key element of the security standards approved this week that will govern global trade.
In a bid to improve the quality and efficiency of cargo security worldwide, the World Customs Organization Thursday voted unanimously to adopt global standards for cargo inspection and promote the use of technology as part of the process. Directors General of Customs representing the WCO's 166 member nations voted during a council session in Brussels to adopt a framework of 17 standards designed to regulate security and facilitate trade worldwide. These WCO members represent about 99% of the world's trade. Technology is pervasive throughout the framework. Some of the standards call for nations receiving cargo to request that the sending nation perform an outbound inspection of high-risk containers, preferably using non-intrusive X-ray machines and radiation detectors. The standards also call for the electronic transmission of shipping data to receiving nations in advance of shipment and the use of digital signatures in the electronic exchange of information. While EDI is an acceptable electronic data transfer method, the standards suggest that customs organizations worldwide also consider XML and even E-mail.

"It is critical for us to have a common way to ensure security around the world," says Theo Fletcher, IBM's VP of supply-chain compliance for the security and diversity division of the company's integrated supply-chain business. When different countries adopt different security approaches, it adds time and cost to the shipping process, he adds. IBM annually sells about $20 billion worth of goods to WCO members.

The Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection agency has been working with the WCO for more than a year to help develop and adopt these standards, says Patrick Jones, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection. "When you have several different standards, it tends to create openings that criminals or terrorists can take advantage of," he adds.

The new WCO standards also take into account the privacy of data exchanged between customs organizations and private-sector shippers. "National legislation must contain provisions that specify that any data collected and or transmitted by customs must be treated confidentially and securely and must be sufficiently protected," the standards document says.

Now that the standards have been defined and accepted, it's time to begin implementation, Fletcher says. Although the specific technology to be used in support of these standards has not been defined, the role technology will play is clear. "It's time to make the capital and people investments," he says, adding that IBM is in the process of identifying the 20 countries most critical to the company's supply chain, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. IBM plans to work closely with these countries to create a more secure trading infrastructure with screening technology and trained personnel.

The cost to implement these technologies must be shouldered by both the governments in these countries and the vendors that do business with them, Fletcher says, adding, "A lot of the technology investments will fall on the exporter."

One of the more advanced technologies being studied to improve cargo security is the "smart" container, which features an integrated security sensor. Late last year, GE Security, part of General Electric's Infrastructure division, along with Unisys and China International Marine Containers, tested the new "tamper-evident secure container" technology by sending shipments of GE products packed in 18 of these freight containers between Hong Kong and Long Beach, Calif. An integrated security sensor was attached to the inside wall of each tamper-evident container and armed after the container was packed and sealed with a standard bolt seal.

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