Unless an importer or exporter takes steps to request confidentiality of its vessel manifest data, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is legally obligated to make certain data available under the Freedom of Information Act. This means that “data collection” companies are legally able to obtain some of your shipping information that is presented on vessel manifests and sell it to other companies (e.g. your competitors) in various reporting formats. Air manifests are confidential.
You do have options to protect your manifest information by requesting confidential treatment of data. While the confidentiality request option has long been available, it required mailing the request, or more recently emailing the request and often took 60-90 days to go into effect. On May 22, 2020, CBP deployed an on-line application, for which CBP anticipates reducing the processing time to as little as 24 hours.
Since this is an electronic data match to suppress information, only exact matches will be suppressed. Therefore, CBP does not guarantee your data will never be made available, and the key is to submit as many naming variations as you can think of. A good place to start is by reviewing copies of ocean shipment bills of lading. How many ways do you see your name listed? Include them all.
What about the shipper’s name? An importer or consignee can suppress the name and address of the shipper. The on-line application automatically defaults to this option but can be overridden.
The request is only valid for two years, so remember to put the renewal date on your calendar to refresh your requests and allow enough time for CBP processing to avoid gaps.
Should you have any questions regarding the process, please feel free to contact your local DB Schenker representative.