Sailboats, Pirates, and the Police State
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:25PM - Comments: (12)
March 27, 2012
About a year ago, we published an opinion piece by Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo that raised concerns that Automated Identification System (AIS) technology or a similar tracking system would be implemented to continually monitor recreational boats.
Still in the earliest development phase, and with no “requirement” per se in sight, the still hypothetical tracking system should not be confused with those aimed at enhancing search and rescue. It is explicitly designed as a component of a Department Homeland Security (DHS) initiative.
Electronics writer Ben Ellison delivered an interesting post last week updating on where the new tracking technology has been headed and how DHS plans to handle what it calls “uncooperative vessels,” those boaters (or potential terrorists) who don’t want to be tracked.
According to the DHS Small Business Innovations Research (SBIR) Program Portal website, 42 companies bid on a 2010 request for a small vessel monitoring solution (most large vessels are already required to have AIS). The proposal explicitly requests bids on systems that monitor cooperative and/or uncooperative vessels. Three were selected for Phase I, and of those three, it appears at least one was selected for additional Phase II funding, but it has not yet been announced.
Ellison doesn’t name any Phase II awardees, but one can deduce from his post that Technology Systems Inc. (TSI), a company in Ellison’s home state of Maine, is probably the only Phase II awardee. The company’s “Smart Chart AIS” proposal is the only one among the three Phase I awardees that offers a “voluntary” tracking option. The three Phase I awardees are listed at the top of this table under the topic labeled number H-SB011.1-011.
Ellison, who is a proponent of this technology, tells us we should all be happy to know that the awardee’s technology focuses strictly on “cooperative” vessels. The system, he declares, can be of great “benefit to us boaters!” (His exclamation points, not mine.)
I won't be an easy convert. In my view, the government already has enough ways to track my comings and goings, and I suppose I can learn to live with these. But my boat always has been a more sacred and personal space.
Voluntary programs find a way of becoming required, and as I reflected on a future when a person can no longer step aboard his sailboat and fall off the map, I began to wonder whether this new floating creation, forever held in the gaze of the state, will even qualify as a boat.
Call it what you want, but such a thing would not be a boat. Not in my mind, and certainly not in the eyes of writers and thinkers who've helped shaped the iconic American image for freedom: a man (or woman) alone in a boat at the sea. (E.B. White, Whitman, Thoreau, Winslow Homer, and Mark Twain immediately come to mind, as do more contemporary sailor-artists Jimmy Buffett and David Crosby.)
What will a world without boats look like?
The division here is a philosophical one, and strong opinions sprout like thistles on both sides of the fence. Perhaps the most provocative view was expressed nearly a quarter-century ago by French philosopher Michel Foucault, for whom the image of a boat at sea served as a powerful metaphor: “In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of the pirates.”
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