There has been considerable international concern about issues of privacy and the rights of governments to archive private information obtained from their citizens. At the same time, however, social media continues to invite wary and unwary individuals to voluntarily share secrets with each other. Ship tracking is one important area where data sharing is a key to safe and efficient conduct of global maritime commerce. This is the mandatory shipboard use of the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which permits the tracking of hundreds of thousands of ships. It is the basis for a variety of commercial products that help facilitate movements of ships around the world—and in case of distress, rapid lifesaving assistance.
Maritime shipping carries 90 percent of world trade, and at any moment there will be about 50,000 ships at sea engaged in commerce. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency, creates internationally agreed-upon procedures and standards for proper management and safety. Almost all maritime states are members of the organization and work together to establish and adopt necessary standards for the conduct of ship operations. Actions by the IMO have the force of law within the member states. The organization requires that vessels of 300 gross registered tons or greater be equipped with AIS capabilities. By 2012 more than 250,000 vessels had been fitted with it.