Security and Self-Piloted Ships: What Should We Be Asking?
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Security and Self-Piloted Ships: What Should We Be Asking?

Security and Self-Piloted Ships: What Should We Be Asking?

As with any new technology, autonomous shipping is raising concerns during its infancy. While the benefits are obvious, the drawbacks are something we need to consider now before plunging into the deep end. This doesn’t mean that autonomous shipping should be halted, only that caution must be exercised, and risks weighed and mitigated when possible.

To facilitate this discussion, let’s look at some of the primary security concerns experts have raised about the technology:

Risks With a System That is Not Self-Contained

Autonomous ships are set to react similarly and make decisions like a delegated officer would. Instead of years of training, experience or education, the computer would have programming to back up its decisions. However, unlike a delegated officer, an autonomous system poses a potential for a higher security risk since the system is not self-contained. There are far more ways for this system to be compromised than with a human officer.

Risk Associated with Landside Infrastructure

To make autonomous ships workable, there will still need to be an IT infrastructure and experts who run it from land. This introduces the potential for human error, eliminating one of the most championed benefits of autonomous technology. The IT personnel involved will have to be highly scrutinized as they will have access to extensive and sensitive information about how the system works.

Depending on how the technology is used to direct a ship’s movement, this could mean that use of navigational software would be the same as having access to the navigation bridge. Responsibility will then fall on the software providers to ensure extra security controls which will include restricting and monitoring all access to the software.

Issues of Fairness and Feasibility with Background Screening

Based on the Ship Security requirements stated in Part A of the ISPS Code, IT personnel with this access would have to undergo background checks to be in accordance with various global security clearance rules, including persons working at a help desk, managers, coders and more. Not only are there questions of fairness involved in this, but also additional costs and time spent in the clearance and hiring of IT persons.

There would also need to be additional time and money spent for ongoing supervision of these workers to ensure security. So, the question becomes should the screenings remain as they are, or will they need to be modified based on the larger number of employees and their various degrees of access?

Also, what does this mean for employees who are already working in these positions or would be naturally put into them as the technology spreads? Will companies and employees face the time and money expense of getting security clearance for current employees?

With all these questions, autonomous shipping becomes more complicated and the benefits perhaps limited by the potential for additional concerns. While the technology will, undoubtedly, continue to grow, we need to be aware that these other issues of human rights, labor relations and security will also grow.

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