We get asked many times a year by clients how they can keep their import shipment history confidential. US Customs has created a new portal where companies can request confidentiality for their shipment history, including origins, product variety, volumes and numerous other data elements. This system allows shippers to protect their sensitive commercial data from their competitors.
Right now, almost all of the data from the transport bill of lading is considered a public record and is available for publication by a variety of news services that can sell it to anyone willing to pay the fee.
Shippers have always had the ability to hide their information, but the process was manual, time-consuming, and usually a broker or law firm was involved. The requests, once made, seemed to take 6-8 weeks, and often longer, before they went into effect. This new portal promises to start within 24 hours.
The main thing any company needs to do to benefit from this is to be very thorough when they are asked for all of the variations of how their company is identified on the transport bill of lading. For instance, we all know the company IBM, but this name is technically a different name than any of the following when it comes to a computer deciding whether or not a shipments' data is to be held confidential:
Int'l Business Machines
International Bus Machines
Intl Bus Mach
The addition or deletion of even a small grammatical differencethat is not noted on the applicationwill allow the details of that shipment to make it into the public domain. Also, very importantly, if your company name is commonly misspelled a certain way(s), you shouldadd this misspelling(s)to the list of alternative names requested by the confidentiality request.
Everyone needs to know and understand that these confidentiality requests will rarely be foolproof. Certain shipments will almost certainly fall outside of whatever list of alternative names are listed on the confidentiality request. One of the reasons the previous manual letter request/submission always took so long to go into effect was that a person literally had to input each name variation into the system manually.
Last, these requests must be renewed every two years, and as we all know, two years can pass very quickly!