By The Raleigh Telegram
RALEIGH – Tourists on the North Carolina Ferry System may be surprised to learn this summer that they will have their personal information recorded by the government as they board ferries in the state.
During a recent ferry ride on the coast, a ferry official in a yellow shirt was walking up and down the long line of cars asking for people’s names before they boarded the ferry. He also recorded the license numbers of cars boarding the ferry.
Once license plate numbers are gathered, it would be possible to look up the the address of the owner, but the driving and criminal history, full name, Social Security number for states that participate in the federal Real ID program, birth date, and other private information.
When asked why the information was necessary, the ferry worker said that it was for “Homeland Security” but did not elaborate on any other details.
There has been no public information release or statement from the NC Ferry System as to what how the private information is being used, how long it would be recorded, or how it affects security on the boat.
Drivers whose names and license plates were recorded were allowed to drive their cars onto the ferry with no delay, so it is unclear at the moment how recording names would prevent a terrorist attack or keep someone from boarding the boat who was on a terror watch list or other wanted list.
When asked why the previous boarding on the other side of the ferry ride did not yield a similar inquiry, the ferry worker said that workers on the other side of the trip were “supposed to be” doing that, but sometimes did not.
When asked how he felt about the request for information, opinions were mixed.
“Yeah, I’ve been asked a couple of times,” said one driver who lived in the area and who crossed the water regularly. ”I didn’t really think anything about it.”
A tourist not from the area said he was somewhat taken aback by the request.
“I don’t want to be put on some terror watch list or some database just because I’m visiting the Outer Banks,” said the man who requested that his name not be used. ”I don’t really like my personal information being recorded, but I guess you don’t really have a choice these days.”
In addition to the recording of private information, other changes may be in store for the ferry system in North Carolina.
Some local businesses on the Outer Banks and other areas are worried about recent proposals that would add tolls to some ferries that are currently free. The Cape Hatteras-Ocracoke Island ferry will likely remain free of charge as there is no bridge to the Island of Ocracoke, but for other ferries a new toll to cross the water is being considered in bills in the North Carolina Legislature.
The new toll on ferries would not only affect the flow of tourists, which is the number one industry in Eastern North Carolina, but would increase the costs of doing business in those parts of the state as delivery trucks, etc. would have to pay additional tolls to cross bodies of water. They don’t have much choice as they either have to pay the ferry toll if there is one or in some cases drive an extra 70 miles on a land route.
Proponents of the new ferry tolls say that the ferry system needs to pay for itself and become self sufficient through tolls.
Opponents of the tolls say that the ferries are an integral part of the road system in Eastern NC and that if all road systems in the state are to be self-sufficient then tolls need to be added onto every single highway across North Carolina including big cities like Raleigh, Charlotte, and Greensboro which receive millions in tax dollars for highway projects each year.. ::
Article Posted: Sunday, June 16th, 2013.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After The Raleigh Telegram published this story on the gathering of information on passengers who are boarding North Carolina ferries on the coast, the North Carolina Department of Transportation responded on July 2nd with some clarifications on the policies and what they do with the information.
The NC DOT at random has been asking for the names and license plates of certain drivers before they board the ferries. Although many passenger riders have been riding the ferries for years without being asked for their names, the NC DOT says they started gathering the information since 2001 in response to the terrorist attacks.
The NC DOT says they only ask 5% of the passengers for their information, so it is possible that someone could ride the ferry for years without being asked for their names, etc. but that the policy is not new.
The questions posed below were sent by The Raleigh Telegram in June and the answers printed verbatim were the ones provided by NC DOT Communications Director Mike Charbonneau on July 3rd.
Why is the NC DOT asking for information from passengers?
The North Carolina Ferry System is required by law to perform random administrative searches of a certain percentage of vehicles wishing to board the ferries. The percentage corresponds with the MARSEC (Maritime Security) level. As we are currently at MARSEC Level 1 (the lowest level), that percentage is five percent. This is all part of the Maritime Security Act of 2002, which Congress passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
What information is gathered?
The drivers are asked for a photo ID, NOT a driver’s license. The only information recorded on the screeners’ logs is the vessel departure time, name of the driver, vehicle make, model, and license plate number. NO information from the photo ID is recorded.
What happens if someone refuses to give their name?
Vehicle operators who cannot provide photo ID or do not wish to provide identification are given the option to exit the terminal, and if a toll was paid, a refund is provided.
What happens to the information?
The paper log sheets are kept locked in a file cabinet or other secure means for the required length of time of 2 years, so that the Ferry System has proof of compliance if requested from the Coast Guard during a spot check or annual inspection.
How long is the information kept?
After the required length of time (2 years) has passed, the records are sent to the main Ferry Division office to be shredded.
The Raleigh Telegram appreciates the DOT’s response and for their clarifications of the policies. The NC DOT also said there is a PDF that explains the NC DOT ferry information gathering policy and that it is posted online. The link is provided below: