There have been a number of privacy and data security breaches connected with this year’s presidential election. The latest is news that Verizon has admitted President-Elect Barack Obama’s personal cell phone records were wrongly accessed by the telecom company’s employees. Verizon said:
This week we learned that a number of Verizon Wireless employees have, without authorization, accessed and viewed President-Elect Barack Obama’s personal cell phone account. The account has been inactive for several months. The device on the account was a simple voice flip-phone, not a BlackBerry or other smartphone designed for e-mail or other data services.
All Verizon employees who have accessed the account “have been put on immediate leave, with pay” while the company investigates whether the access was legitimate. Verizon did not disclose what type of data was viewed, such as numbers dialed or call duration. An Obama spokesperson said the president-elect’s voicemails and e-mails were not accessed.
This is not the first time President-Elect Obama’s personal data has been improperly accessed. In March, the State Department announced that three contract employees improperly accessed the confidential passport files of Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama. A similar breach occurred in 1992, with then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s records.
In July, the Inspector General of the State Department released a report that found federal employees repeatedly snooped into the passport files of entertainers, athletes and other high-profile Americans. The Inspector General conducted the audit (pdf) after the breach of the senators’ files.
Earlier this week, the Ohio Inspector General released a report (pdf) into whether state officials improperly accessed and distributed confidential state records related to Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who gained fame during the election as “Joe the Plumber.” Reporters learned that Wurzelbacher owed back taxes to the state and did not have a plumber’s license.
The Inspector General determined that Ohio’s Department of Jobs and Family Services Director “Helen Jones-Kelley’s authorization to search three confidential agency databases for information on Wurzelbacher was improper, and that her use of state email resources to engage in political activity was also improper.” Jones-Kelley used her state e-mail account to raise funds for Obama’s campaign. She has been suspended without pay for a month for both improperly accessing public assistance, unemployment, and child-support databases for data on Wurzelbacher and the improper use of state resources for political activity.
Our investigation determined that there were 18 separate records checks conducted on Wurzelbacher following the October 15, 2008, presidential debate. Of those 18 checks, five were conducted in response to media requests for information and eight were conducted by various agencies without any legitimate business purpose. […] Fourteen of those checks occurred within 48 hours of the debate. Searches were conducted on databases maintained by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (“ODJFS”), the Ohio Attorney General’s Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (“OHLEG”) system, the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles (“BMV”), the Toledo Police Department, and the Ohio Department of Taxation (“Taxation”).
The Ohio Inspector General also found “an omission on the part of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for failing to prevent a misuse of the OHLEG system by an agency contractor, and a wrongful act with the contractor for using OHLEG to access confidential information about Wurzelbacher.”
A contractor whose employment had ended still had access to the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway system, which is maintained by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The contractor used this access to search for data on Wurzelbacher, but the person “was not authorized by anyone at the OAG or Insurance and did not occur with any state official’s prior knowledge.” The Ohio State Highway Patrol in investigating the contractor’s actions for possible criminal charges. Other agencies are also investigating breaches of their databases, according to the Inspector General.
The Inspector General concluded:
Clearly, all these searches were done in the midst of a national political campaign. But we did not find any evidence that shows the data was accessed or information released in response to media requests in an effort to support any political activity or agenda.