How will the US Customs and Border use my information?
When you fill out your ESTA application, you will be required to provide personal data. As well as basic biographical information and the details of your passport, you will also be asked other questions such as any record of past criminal activity or behaviour, any previous VISA revocations, or other problems related to travelling in the past.
Some of this data can be sensitive, and while there are a number of laws and regulations restricting who can gain access to it, the actual parties involved are not made available to the public. Here is a complete guide to who you know will be able to see your data and use it, and who won’t.
How long will my information be protected and who will have access to it?
All information submitted in your application to the ESTA programme will be subject to strict and stringent controls over which other parties have access to your data. Many similar programmes around the world use the same criteria that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses. You cannot specifically find out which other parties have access to your information unless you work in a related industry. Under current regulations, the information can be shared with the Department of State, as well as any federal, state, and foreign agencies responsible for upholding the law, and if the Department of Homeland Security believes that the information will assist in the upholding of the law. Information will also be shared specifically to any purposes of anti terrorism laws and legislation with any relevant authorities, should the Department of Homeland Security determine that an individual poses a risk.
How long will my information be stored?
Your information will be stored for the duration of the validity of your ESTA. Generally, this is a period of two years, although your ESTA will become invalid should you acquire a new passport, change your name or gender, or any of the Yes/No questions answered in your form change. After this, the information will be stored for a further year, after which it will be archived for a further twelve years. The purpose of this is to allow access to the information for law enforcement and investigation purposes. Archived data is subject to far more stringent controls for the number of people and organisations permitted to access it and when. All information acquired by legal authorities for this purpose and data linked to law enforcement lookup records will remain accessible permanently to those agencies, authorities or organisations.
Will they share my information with other parties?
You cannot request specific knowledge of which parties will have access to your information or how it is shared. However, current agreements allow the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to share your information with local, regional and national governments in the U.S. and abroad, if there is a belief that sharing the information will help to uphold the relevant laws. All sharing of any of your information is legally required to comply with the Privacy Act System of Records Notice, which you can find a complete copy of on the website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should you require further information. To make things smoother, you will not have to carry your application details with you when boarding the aircraft or vessel bound for the United States – this means that any carriers will receive information regarding the status of your ESTA application (i.e. whether it was accepted or denied), but will not receive any of the actual information submitted on the ESTA form during your application.
Will my information be used for any purpose other than determining eligibility?
The purpose of the ESTA is to provide a background check on individuals to determine if they pose a risk to the security of safety of the United States of America should they travel there. Accordingly, if the check should reveal any individuals to be known criminals or violators of the law, that data can be used by relevant agencies and authorities.
How does the ESTA increase security?
By automating much of the process of checking individuals wishing to enter the U.S., the ESTA is a much simpler and quicker system than requiring individuals from participating countries to apply for a VISA before travelling. However, it also involves background checks on criminal activities and more, adding a further extra later of security to keep the U.S. safe. The ESTA therefore makes travelling to the U.S. much easier while also making U.S. borders more secure.