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Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama Passport File Breached

Barack Obama's confidential passport file was accessed without authorization at least three times in the past several months. Three contract workers for the U.S. State Department were responsible, viewing his file on January 9, February 21, and March 14. Two have been fired, but one is still staying on the job.

The apparent reason: "imprudent curiosity" on the part of the three individuals, according to the State Department.

What kind of information can be accessed? "Passport application data includes such details as date and place of birth, e-mail address, mailing address, Social Security number, former names and travel plans."

Any employee can access this data. All they need to do is agree to abide by the Privacy Act to access passport records, but after clicking "Yes", the computer system lets them access any record they like without any controls.

Because Obama is a prominent individual, his record has a "flag" set to warn of unauthorized access. A State Department spokesman says:

"In each of these three cases the system that was set up to detect any authorized access of these kinds of records worked. These unauthorized accesses were detected by the State department and immediately acted on," said McCormack.

Undersecretary Pat Kennedy said some records have "what computer people call flags -- we put flags on certain records that trigger a report to a supervisor that the record has been accessed," he said.

An Obama spokesman, reacting to the news of the breach, replies:

"This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. "Our government's duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes."

"We demand to know who looked at Senator Obama's passport file, for what purpose and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach," the Obama spokesman added.

An incident like this has happened before:

In 1992, a similar breach took place when State Department officials looked up data on then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton, amid rumors that had tried to renounce his citizenship in order to dodge the draft while he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford during the Vietnam War.

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