WASHINGTON – Government workers repeatedly snooped without authorization inside the electronic passport records of entertainers, athletes and other high-profile Americans, a State Department audit has found. One celebrity’s records were breached 356 times by more than six dozen people.
The audit, by State’s inspector general, was prompted by the discovery in March that three of the department’s contract workers had peeked at the private passport files of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain and that a State Department trainee had examined the file of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The report documented a widespread lack of controls on the personal data of the 127 million Americans who hold passports, finding numerous “weaknesses, including a general lack of policies, procedures, guidance and training.” The State Department had claimed that its system worked when the candidates’ passport breaches were discovered.
“This is unacceptable. The report makes it clear that the private information of over 100 million Americans is vulnerable to unauthorized access,” said Sen Joe Biden, D-Del.
The audit also suggests that some workers were motivated by fascination with the private lives of celebrities, none of whom were identified. One employee told investigators he simply liked looking up the records of professional basketball players.
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.
Investigators found that 20,500 government workers and contractors had access to the electronic system that maintained the records. Most of them worked for the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security.
Five contractors already have been fired, and dozens of people are under investigation for alleged snooping that took place in offices across the United States and even overseas.
The 192 million passport files maintained by the State Department contain individuals’ passport applications, which include data such as Social Security numbers, physical descriptions, and names and places of birth of the applicant’s parents. Otherwise, the files provide limited information; they do not contain records of overseas travel or visa stamps from previous passports.