Nice cans.
February 12, 2012 8:16 PM   Subscribe

Where do customs reporting sites like get the info that's in their database? is a searchable database of recent customs entries. I can enter my company name and see a teaser of the containers I've imported, what factories they came from, where they were delivered and all sorts of other info on the bill of lading. Of course, I would have to pay to see all the records.

Looking into the US Customs website, it seems like that information is only obtainable via a Freedom of Information Act request form. If there is a searchable government database, I can't find it.

Anybody have any idea how importgenius has access to all these records in a database? I can't imagine they're filing FOIA requests for every entry.
posted by PSB to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I suspect importgenious got the info from USA Trade Online. You have to get continuing access, but you can check it out for free for up to a week.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:00 PM on February 13, 2012

'Scuze me, you have to pay to get continuing access...
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:01 PM on February 13, 2012

This is a guess, but I think I'd be willing to bet my next paycheck that it's pretty close to accurate.

Sites like are not providing information from cutsoms entries. That information is confidential. The basis of what they provide is information from shipment manifest data, which is public record. 19 CFR 103.31 details what that information is, and even how to get it. Confidentiality is opt-in for importers, but even if an importer opts in, the information passes through so many different hands along the way that there are probably plenty of sources that aren't subject to that confidentiality agreement, that can fill in the blanks. For example, if I'm an importer and I jump through the confidentiality hoops, my manifest data will still be reported, it just won't include my company's info, my supplier's info, and my notify party's info. The data miners still have the Bill of Lading number, and all the information on the Bill of Lading has also likely passed through many other hands along the way. Forwarders, co-loaders, steamship lines, truckers, etc., in the US and overseas. With the right network in place it wouldn't be very difficult at all to collect the missing data and in many cases even more information than what's on the manifest reports. There is often a lot of unnecessary information printed right on a Bill of Lading. Sometimes it's just as easy to get as entering the Bill of Lading number in a carrier's website.

So what those companies do is start with the shipment manifest reports, compile that into a searchable database, augment the information with what they can get from their network of contacts, and then sell access to their searchable database. It's a brilliant business plan, actually. Collect and organize public information, and sell it in a usable form. I'd be interested to see what their legal budget is.
posted by Balonious Assault at 6:10 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

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