Various news reports reveal that the Inspector General of the State Department has 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 a recent scandal. 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.
According to the State Department, passport files can include:
— the applicant’s name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, social security number, marital status and mailing address and previous passport number if applicable.
— the applicant’s physical descriptors like height, hair color and eye color.
— the names and place of birth of the applicant’s parents. […]
— the occupation and employer of the applicant and contact information for the applicant as well as his or her emergency contact. (these have proved invaluable in contacting next of kin when a US citizen dies or needs assistance abroad).
— Travel plans as completed by an applicant on the form would be in the record.
For the audit, the Inspector General compiled a list of 150 politicians, actors, musicians, athletes, and media personalities. "Of the 150 names included in the study, OIG found that the records of 127 individuals, or 85 percent, had been accessed at least one time. The query results showed a total of 4,148 hits to the passport information for these individuals," according to the report. Nine of the 150 records were viewed more than 101 times, 33 records were accessed more than 26 times, and 85 records were viewed at least once.
The report also stated, "OIG found many control weaknesses—including a general lack of policies, procedures, guidance, and training—relating to the prevention and detection of unauthorized access to passport and applicant information and the subsequent response and disciplinary processes when a potential unauthorized access is substantiated."
"The inspector general made 22 recommendations for improving security, but many of them — and much of the report — were redacted because officials feared they would provide a road map to further abuse of the system," according to the Washington Post .
Read the Inspector General’s redacted report here (pdf). For more instances of government or hospital employees snooping into confidential records, read a previous post. You can read the mystifying State Department press briefing on the Inspector General’s report here.