Notice Regarding Publicly Filed Personal Information

This Publicly Filed Personal Information Notice is effective as of February 23, 2024.

We occasionally receive requests from individuals asking for the “takedown” or removal of their names and addresses from shipment records in our databases. Sometimes, they are confused about how their information ended up in our databases and what our legal obligations are.

It's true that sometimes personal names and addresses are found in bills of lading retrievable by our services (“Publicly Filed Personal Information”, “PFPI”). Here, we are specifically talking about individuals, operating as amateur shippers or receivers, who put their personal names and addresses in bills of lading - one of the shipping trade's most iconic and definitively public documents - that they submit to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

Spoiler alert - we can help

But before explaining how to easily contact the CBP, and swiftly remove personal information in bills of lading from government databases, we thought some valuable context might be helpful regarding bills of lading and personal information.

  1. The history of bills of lading, and their public purposes
  2. What legal obligations is ImportYeti under here?
  3. What does ImportYeti do and why?
  4. What can individuals do here?

THE HISTORY OF BILLS OF LADING, AND THEIR PUBLIC PURPOSES

This cartoon is a good place to start:

For superfans check out: 1926 Yale Law Journal article, “The Evolution of the Ocean Bill of Lading.”

As Professor McLaughlin explains, bills of lading, as we know and cherish them, have origins dating back to the 11th century. The rise of commercial hubs in the Mediterranean led to a need for precise documentation of delivered goods and their origins. Ports established meticulous registers to document shipment specifics, overseen by diligent clerks, stringent regulations, and harsh penalties. From the beginning, these registers served not only buyers and sellers, who could obtain excerpts for their records, but were also accessible to a limited public, upon request, “regardless of any objections from the master or owner.”

Fast-forward to the 19th century in America, where Congress closely engaged in regulating maritime trade, including bills of lading. New uniform bills of lading were introduced, collected, and subsequently orderly sent to the National Archives, as they continue to do today.

Bills of lading can fulfill various roles for shippers and receivers, as well as for banks, insurers, and other intermediaries in the shipping process from Point A to Point B. Online searches often highlight the direct benefits to parties, such as receipt, entitlement, and contractual aspects of bills of lading.

Compelling public functions are interwoven with historical practices, legal frameworks, and the operational requirements of international trade. Banks, insurance companies, and other entitiescan verify shipment details independently, crucial for risk management and secure business transactions. Publicizing these documentsenhances market efficiency, allowing businesses, investors, and researchers to access granular information on shipments and destinations,facilitating informed decision-making and guidance. Transparency in these detailsdeters fraudulent activities such as misrepresentation of shipped goods, smuggling, and tax evasion.

WHAT LEGAL OBLIGATIONS DOES IMPORTYETI HAVE HERE?

The short answer: none.

Public Domain Under Federal Law. While we offer a distinctive ImportYeti experience with the informational content we provide, including robust search and processing of bills of lading, the records themselves are acquired “as is” from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. As we've learned from the history of bills of lading, these records have always been publicly accessible for significant historical, compliance, and operational purposes. Under federal law, these records are public domain, and ultimately reside in the National Archives under the Record of the United States Customs Service. Many public records, such as court decisions, may include personal information, so this balance between the public interest and personal privacy comes up in other contexts.

Not Governed by Privacy Statement.While the information we provide may include occasional personal details of individuals, these do not qualify as “personal data” under our Privacy Statement. We have not actively sought or gathered this data; rather, it is presented to us in an unstructured, unreferenced manner - devoid of metadata or tags linking it to a specific individual and clarifying how certain details are personal and can be publicly cross-referenced. For example, if John Doe puts his personal address in a bill of lading, how can we confirm that this mention indeed pertains to a personal residence and not, as usual, to the business premises of a shipper or recipient?

Not Protected Under Federal or State Consumer Privacy Laws.While there is no federal consumer privacy statute, federal agencies like the FTC can and have issued guidance relating to personal information. None, however, apply here. In California, often considered the national leader on many consumer protection efforts, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) was amended by the California Privacy Rights Act, which specifically excludes governmental records like bills of sale from its coverage.

Legitimate Public Interests Argue Against:As we've learned, there are notable public benefits from maintaining bills of lading public and easily accessible. Altering, redacting, or erasing these records, particularly those long-standing and widely trusted like bills of lading, presents evident risks or valid concerns, such as vanishing into the Memory Hole.

WHAT DOES IMPORTYETI DO AND WHY?

We've chosen to take active and reactive measures to minimize the presence of PFPI in our informational content and services. We aggressively implement and continue to fine-tune algorithms to detect PFPI in our databases.

WHAT CAN AN INDIVIDUAL DO?

The CBP has made the first step simple. Submit a confidentiality request on their online portal, Vessel Manifest Confidentiality Request.In this CBP Trade Information Notice, updated September 2023, they report that processing times are as little as 24 hours, and the new online application enables specification of name variations to ensure broad matching of bills of ladling. An email is provided for technical questions: [email protected]. Second, please reach out to us via the contact us form on the website with a link to the page you believe has personal information.