US shippers: How to keep your information secure, wherever it may be!

containers organized in port with empty space

Now more than ever, importers and exporters need to ensure that their trade information, which is reported to carriers, remains secure and confidential. It is also vital that this critical information does not fall into the hands of competitors.

To ensure security for their data, shippers can implement two specific changes within their business practices:

1.) Review your international shipping documents (such as ocean bills of lading) for possible listing/notations of product trade names.

If, by chance, trade names are noted on the ocean bills of lading, this information is then placed onto shipping manifests by the ocean carriers and is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The Act allows the information to become publicly available to all parties (in the US and outside the US) who request the information. Elimination of trade names from ocean bills allows you to keep your products confidential.  

2.) Request directly from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that your information (name and address) be held confidential. 

The following information lists the steps and procedures that should be enacted to ensure to receive the full benefit from CBP:

* Confidentiality of Vessel Manifest Information must be requested every two years
19 CFR 103.31 allows importers, consignees, and shippers to file certifications for confidential treatment for certain inward and outward vessel manifest information, such as importer and/or shipper names and addresses.

* Information covered by confidential certification may not be published by the press or included on magnetic tapes sold to the public
Although 19 CFR 103.31 allows accredited representatives of the press (including newspapers, commercial magazines, trade journals, and similar publications), to examine, copy, and publish certain vessel manifest and summary statistical information on imports and exports, any information covered by a confidential certification may only be examined and copied by the press; it cannot be published. In addition, information covered by a confidential certification will not be included in the Automated Manifest System (AMS) data that are sold to the public.

Certification for confidential treatment for inward or outward manifests

With respect to inward vessel manifests, 19 CFR 103.31 provides that an importer or consignee (or their authorized employee, attorney, or official) may submit a certification for confidential treatment of:

  • The importer or consignee names and addresses ((including marks and numbers
    Which reveal these names and addresses); and
  • The names and addresses of all of the shippers to such importer or consignee.

 

For information appearing on the outward manifest, 19 CFR 103.31 allows a shipper (or their authorized employee or official) to submit a certification for confidential treatment of the shipper's name and address.

Certification valid for 2 years only; a certification can be filed to request confidentiality for both inward and outward manifest information.

CBP has created a new online application (effective May 22, 2020) that will enable companies and individuals to directly input all applicable name variations as part of their confidentiality request. This will enhance the requesting party’s ability to ensure that a name provided matches the name entered electronically in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). The new enhancement will automate this process via an online application, located on CBP.gov, reducing the processing time of confidentiality requests to as little as 24 hours. 

CBP has made the following resources available to aid users with this new process: the Electronic Vessel Manifest Confidentiality Webpage. Users can access the new online application form and view more information on the Importers Confidential Treatment of Vessel Manifest. 

Both initial and renewal certifications are valid for a period of two years only. 
According to CBP, confidentiality is effective once the information is placed into the system (the requestor will be notified that this has been done).

CBP states that in order to ensure that requested information is deleted from public disclosure, the importer or consignee should ensure that the company’s name and shipper’s name is identified to CBP in all known variations that may be used on shipping documentation, such as bills of lading, purchase orders and manifests.
For other modes of transportation, air manifest information currently remains confidential. Additionally, US Courts have ruled that truck and rail manifest information is confidential and consequently may not be disclosed to the public.

As always, should you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.