The Proof is in the Pudding: The Importance of Manifest Confidentiality

Imagine you are back in 4th grade and happen to be the pudding czar of the elementary school’s most lucrative snack trade (you know; pudding for just about anything – mostly lunch money – strawberry Gusher’s for Cheetos, those little fudge elf cookies for string cheese and everything else that falls within the trade; don’t you dare mention any food that appears green or nutritious). All of your light-up shoe clad peers have recently been clamoring for chocolate pudding, which is great news for you since you have a stronghold on the best suppliers. Your mom packs you two puddings every day because you have great hair and dimples and she loves you. On top of that, you trade half of your PBJ sandwich for one of Timmy Twinkies puddings, you pay 50 cents for one of Slim Jim’s puddings and, last but not least, you trade Pat Pringles your bag of chips for his two puddings. You sell each of these puddings for $1 each. Business is booming and you are making so much lunch money that you have a credit account with veritable black card limits at the local candy store.

Then one day, Principal Prune, who owns one too many cat embroidered sweaters and is in desperate need of a hobby, decides it would be fun if she started keeping a record of the snack trade. She meticulously watches over and notes the snack trade activities for a week, at which point she decides it is her duty as the head authority of the school to share her notes regarding the snack trade with the entire school, all in the name of democracy. In her notes is a detailed account of how, when, where and from whom you acquire your pudding. She takes her notes to Harry Hotcakes, renowned teacher’s pet, head of the school newspaper and your new worst enemy, so that he can publish them in the weekly paper. After the story is published, everyone knows how to get your pudding, and at a better deal, so what is a young entrepreneur to do?

Unfortunately there isn’t much to be done in the fantastical world of the elementary school lunch trade, but in a tangible, adult, business world—wherein entire companies and profits are at stake—there are steps that can be taken to protect your supply chain. United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is required by law (privacy statute 19 CFR 103.31) to make import data available to accredited publications at all ports of entry within the U.S. Hence, the plethora of trade data subscription companies that are now in existence. These trade data companies have access to and publish information that includes but is not limited to: supplier name, supplier contact info, ports of lading and unlading, consignee/notify party, NVOCC, carrier, shipment weight, volume, commodity, HTS etc. So how do you keep an adult Harry Hotcakes from obtaining this info and meddling with your supply chain, and possibly your livelihood?

If you are importing by air, you can stop reading now as data is only available for ships’ manifests (sorry for wasting your time).  For you less fortunate ocean importers, the key to keeping Harry Hotcakes at bay is through a written confidentiality request to CBP. This request will bar your manifest information from being shared with accredited publications, thus making it inaccessible to the likes of any and all Harry Hotcakes.

Confidentiality requests can be submitted to CBP directly:

  • Via e-mail: vesselmanifestconfidentiality@cbp.dhs.gov
  • Via fax: 202-325-0154 or
  •  Via mail using the following address: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 90 K Street, N.E., 10th Floor, Washington D.C. 20229-1177.

It is important to note that CBP will make data confidential for up to 10 variations of a company name. If you know your company name is frequently spelled differently on Bills of Lading and/or more than 10 variations are consistently used, it will be imperative to coordinate with your suppliers and freight providers to get this number down to 10 or less so that bits of your remaining data are not visible subsequent to your request for confidentiality. Furthermore, each confidentiality request is only valid for two years, at which point renewal is necessary.

Don’t let Harry Hotcakes win, protect your pudding and your data!

-- Merritt Trigg
Sr. Business Development Associate