U S State Department Travel Registration And Privacy

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The U.S. State Department offers lot of useful information to Americans via its embassies in almost every country. Especially important is information relating to the safety and security of Americans visiting or living in another country.

When visiting a foreign country you can register with the U.S. Embassy and in case there is a problem the embassy will have necessary contact information and/or permission to release information to relatives or others. To simplify things the State Department now allows you to register on line.

I had registered with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia a couple years ago. They occasionally send emails, for example expected violent protests around election time. They do not sent many emails, but I usually find them interesting (and possibly useful).

This week, however, I received to emails that I found to be quite shocking! In fact they may impinge upon my feelings of safety and security rather than help protect me. The first email was quite simple. Just an announcement that the Embassy in Bogota had made a website for the consular section. Really, a boring, non useful and even less interesting email.

However, it did not take much examination to realize that included on the to line of the email was just a hair under 1,000 email addresses! Oops!

The following day comes the next email, this one claiming to be an apology, it reads exactly like this:

From: “BOGOTA, ACS”

To: “BOGOTA, ACS”

Subject: Message from U.S. Embassy

Date: Thu 03/29/07 07:22 AM

Dear American Citizen:

Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services office sent an email message to U.S. citizens in Colombia, announcing the creation of a website for the Consular Section.

Inadvertently, the message was sent in a way that revealed each recipients email address to the other recipients.

We recognize that this was inappropriate, and we greatly regret the error. Unfortunately, it is not possible to recall the message, and so the most we can do is ask for your forgiveness and assure you that your email address will not be disclosed in future messages.

Please also accept my personal apology for the error.

Sincerely,

Ronald Packowitz

Consul

American Citizen Services

U.S. Embassy

Bogota, Colombia

ACSBogota@state.gov

And my problem with his apology is that now he identifies exactly who these nearly 1,000 emails addresses belong to, “U.S. citizens in Colombia”. If you read my other articles you will know that I find Colombia a generally safe country to travel in and visit. However, it can be a dangerous place. Kidnappings, though not usually focused on Americans can be a danger.

For the U.S. State Department to declare that these 1,000 email addresses belong to “U.S. citizens in Colombia” is not a step toward helping assure the safety and well being of Americans (or others) who wish to visit or live in Colombia!

When you register with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota on line, they make it clear that they will respect your privacy and also explain exactly how the information you provide will be used.

Registration and Privacy

The Department of State is committed to ensuring that any personal information received by our overseas embassies and consulates pursuant to the registration process, whether in person or otherwise, is safeguarded against unauthorized disclosure. The data that you provide the Department of State is subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act (5 USC 552a). This means that the Department of State WILL NOT DISCLOSE the information you provide us in your registration application to any third parties unless you have first given us written authorization to do so, or unless the disclosure is otherwise permitted by the Privacy Act.

Authority: 22 U.S.C 2715, and 22 U.S.C 4802 (b).

Purpose: To notify U.S. citizens in the event of a disaster, emergency or other crisis, and for evacuation coordination.

The information solicited on this form may be made available as a routine use to appropriate agencies whether federal, state, local, or foreign, to assist the Department in the evacuation or provision of emergency service to U.S. citizens, or for law enforcement and administration purposes or pursuant to court order. The information is also made available to private U.S. citizens, known as wardens, designated by U.S. embassies to assist in communicating with the American community in an emergency. For a complete statement of the routine uses to which this information may be put, see the Prefatory Statement of Routine Uses and the listing of routine uses set forth in the systems description for Overseas Citizens Services Records (State-05), found at

http://foia.state.gov/issuances/priviss.asp. Lastly, while this internet site uses secure encryption to safeguard your privacy and therefore any unauthorized interception by third parties of the information you send via the internet is unlikely, please keep in mind that the Department of State is not responsible for any such interception.

I would take the phrase “WILL NOT DISCLOSE” (my emphasis above) to mean something a bit different than sending my email address to almost 1,000 others and then telling those people that I am an “U.S. Citizen in Colombia”.

Word count: 861


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