November 23, 2009

Follow-Up on FOIA Request for Travel History

confidential

A while back I completed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any governmental records related to my travel history.

You can read the original post, including all the info you need to make your own request if you carry a U.S. passport, over here.

As mentioned at the time, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I was curious to see exactly what kind of records the Department of Homeland Security keeps on an active traveler.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I actually got something fairly comprehensive back in the mail. Here’s what I received in a thick envelope the other day:

*A letter with an official response from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
*A long list (14 pages) of my international arrivals and departures
*Another long list (8 pages) of various flight data, discussed below

Where I’ve Been (U.S. Government Edition)

Looking through the list of arrivals and departures produced a blend of nostalgia and temporary memory loss. In some cases, I didn’t even remember the flights at first. When I saw an EWR-AMS flight, I thought it was a mistake.

“I’ve never flown out of Newark to Europe!” I said to myself. And then I realized, oh, right– there was that one time I booked a Continental award with Delta miles, and CO flies out of Newark. I guess the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol really does know more about my travel than I do.

The list details many of my international arrivals into the U.S. and Canada. I was initially surprised to see Canadian airports (all of them begin with Y), but since U.S. immigration screening is often conducted in a separate area in major Canadian airports, I suppose it makes sense. The list includes the following arrival airports:

ATL EWR YVR JFK IAD HNL MIA SEA LAX SJM ORD SFO YYZ

In some cases, especially JFK, LAX, and ATL, I’ve been processed and readmitted literally dozens of times. In other cases, like SJM and HNL, it was just a one-time thing. Each arrival and departure lists the airline and flight number I came in on.

Next up, I turned to the second printout (8 pages) which was a bit more confusing. This printout contains a broad range of data that appears to be supplied directly by the airlines. In addition to flight numbers, it includes my status with various airlines, email address, and even seat numbers for specific flights.

You can see an image of one of the pages here.

The Verdict

I hate to say it, but while it’s interesting to look back on all my flights, I didn’t learn anything that profound. The letter does allude to the fact that some information may be withheld from the disclosure, but it doesn’t say what kind it might be or if anything sensitive was withheld in my case.

I wanted to scan more of the pages for your amusement, but my passport number and a variety of other personal data is included on almost every one, making it difficult to block out. It would certainly be ironic if someone stole my identity after I filed a FOIA request, but I think I’d rather not tempt fate.

As I see it, this is an interesting exercise to undergo if you’ve been traveling for a while, but otherwise, it’s probably not worth the time. And of course, if you’re not from the U.S., then the rules for obtaining this information will be different.

People from all over the world read AONC, but I thought it would be interesting to share what kind of information the U.S. government had in my file. Now I know that they are apparently well aware of my Executive Platinum status with American Airlines, my tendency to be nomadic, and that one time I flew out of Newark that I had completely forgotten about.

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Also read:

Hidden Messages of Passport Stamps
How to Get a Duplicate Passport
How to Travel to Rogue State and Other Interesting Places

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“Confidential” Image by IE Photography