Ever been to the USA and been grilled by the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer on arrival? I know I have. Ever thought of telling the guy asking the questions what he wants to hear in order to speed the process up? Tempting, but I wouldn’t.
Now obviously, not being a CBP officer, or even an American citizen, I have no idea exactly what they can see about you. But its safe to assume its more than you might think.
Earlier today, I stumbled across this website. It’s essentially the ESTA website. Although this was an area that I was unaware of. Put in a few of your details and it will show you every visit you have made to the USA in the past 5 years. Now, this area of the site might be common knowledge and I’m repeating old news here. It certainly got me thinking though.
When I entered into JFK Airport back in September, I recall the CBP officer flicking through my passport and looking a little confused. He eventually asked why there weren’t any stamps in my passport. I mentioned that it was a new one, and he was happy enough. It did get me wondering what exactly he could see on his screen though. Obviously that I had visited the US many times in the past.
What he clearly couldn’t see though was that my previous passport had mysteriously vanished in Singapore a few months previously.
Fast forward a couple of months to my next visit to the USA. I was given a secondary screening upon entry as I had only visited the USA less than two months previously. And the CBP officer could obviously see that. As I had failed to update my arrival address on my ESTA from my previous visit, the agent wanted to see proof of where I would be staying on this occasion. And when I provided that, he typed it in there and then. So that was something else he was able to see.
When I tapped in my details to the I94 website above, there was one thing that threw me big time. I clearly remember my old passport details from years of having provided it on various forms. My new passport details have yet to stick however.
Out of curiosity, I typed in my old passport details to see what info would be thrown up. Yet despite this, every entry and exit to the USA I had made was bang up to date. Even my most recent visit that was made on my NEW passport, months after the old one had been cancelled!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all annoyed or disturbed by this. I always had a hunch that they knew far more than I suspected. But to link my old, cancelled passport and my new one and know they both belonged to the same person, without me having made them aware… Big brother really is watching!
On a similar note, a few years back I was unable to use the ePassport gates in The Netherlands. Every time, I was told to seek assistance. And I was waved through without any issues. I figured it was an issue with my passport. Until the final time I had such an issue. I made a bit of small talk and mentioned that I only had this issue in The Netherlands. The officer let me into a bit of information that was unknown to me. There was a wanted person in The Netherlands with a similar name to me! Therefore, the ePassport gates automatically sent me to a manual check, just to be sure.
I’m guessing they caught up with who they wanted, as I haven’t had any issues since. At least not knowingly…