Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Personal information
behind your passport

Question: Regarding my passport: How can I get information on what kind of history they have on my number? Twice, I went to the Orient, and when I tried to enter Hong Kong, they questioned me and held me back. They asked me questions such as, "What kind of business do you have here?" It was traumatic. I never had problems before, however when I renewed this passport, I realized somebody else has the same name. Where can I check to see what kind of history they have on my number so that I can avoid this trouble when I return to the Orient?

Answer: To get information on your passport, you have to make a request under the federal Privacy Act, according to Nancy K. "Sam" Finn, regional director of the Honolulu Passport Agency.

Information about the Privacy Act is available on the State Department's Web site, which deals with the Freedom of Information Act. You need to put your request in writing, providing your full name and date and place of birth. Provide any other names you may have used, and describe the records you believe the State Department maintains about you and why.

If you are asking about a specific event, give an approximate time period. Sign and date the letter and mail it (do not fax) to:

Margaret P. Grafield,
Information & Privacy Coordinator,
U.S. Department of State, A/RPS/IPS, SA-2,
Washington, DC 20522-6001.

There is no charge for initial copies of documents requested under the Privacy Act. However, there may be a 25-cent per-page charge for subsequent copies.

The Privacy Act is concerned with name-retrievable records, such as passport, medical and employment.

Regarding your experience in Hong Kong, the State Department has "no control over a foreign government's policies with regard to whom they may scrutinize and why, when that person is visiting their country," Finn said.

When you travel to a foreign country, you are subject to the immigration laws of that country and subject to the scrutiny of that country's immigration and customs officials, "just as anyone entering our country would be," she said.

Finn says no two passports ever have the same number, as an internal control measure, as well as to prevent fraud. Even if you're just renewing your passport, you will be given a different number, "so it is not possible for anyone else to have the same number," she said.

If you encounter "serious difficulty," such as being detained by local officials in a foreign country, Finn said you should ask to speak to either the U.S. Consulate or U.S. Embassy for help in resolving the situation.


To a young woman and her driver who drove alongside me on the H-1 freeway, going west-bound near the Waikele Shopping Center about 11:45 p.m. March 17. She signaled to me that my headlights were not on. I would like her to know there are people like me who appreciate acts of concern for others. -- A Forgetful Mom

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