- DOJ Prosecutors Assisting in Passport Breach Investigation. Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors are assisting the State Department in the investigation of the passport files breach of the three top presidential candidates. The DOJ’s involvement appears to be a shift from Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s earlier position, when he stated that he would not enter into the investigation unless it was requested of him, though if presented with “a box full of evidence,” he may reconsider. The shift in position occurred after Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter wrote a letter to Attorney General Mukasey, urging the DOJ to open their criminal investigation without waiting for the State Department to complete an internal review. (March 25, 2008)
- Senators Leahy and Specter Urge Criminal Investigation Into Breach. Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter have called for the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into the breaches of the top presidential candidates’ passport files. In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the senators urged immediate action after Mukasey said that the DOJ will not investigate until after an internal review by the State Department. The senators wrote, “We both strongly believe that our government has a duty to protect the private information of its citizens. The Justice Department should not wait to be handed “a box full of evidence,” as you said at your recent briefing, before determining whether Federal laws were broken.” The senators also wrote the Majority and Republican Leaders in Senate to request floor time for Senate consideration of a comprehensive data privacy bill. (March 24, 2008)
- State Department to Investigate Breaches. The State Department is conducting an investigation into the passport breaches. The investigation will look into the privacy breaches involving the files of the presidential candidates, but will also look for other such incidents and systemic issues that may need to be addressed. While the investigation will be conducted by the Inspector General, the Department of Justice has an “open invitation” to become involved. (March 21, 2008)
- Presidential candidates release statements on passport breaches. On March 21, 2008, the three presidential candidates whose passport files were improperly accessed issued statements on the breach. Senator Barack Obama said that the breaches were “deeply disturbing” and while he appreciated Condoleeza Rice’s apology, he said he expected a “full and thorough investigation”.Senator Hillary Clinton’s office released a statement saying, “Clinton will closely monitor the State Department’s investigation into this and the other breaches of private passport information.” Senator John McCain’s office released a statement saying that he expects a “thorough review”. (March 21, 2008)
- Clinton, McCain, Obama Privacy Breached – Contractors Accessed Passport Files.The State Department announced that three private contractors improperly accessed the confidential passport files of Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice spoke with all three candidates about the breaches and issued an apology on Friday. Two of the three private contractors have been fired over the breach. The two employees worked for Stanley Inc., a Virginia based company that recently announced the signing of a five-year, $570-million contract to support passport services at the State Department. (March 21, 2008)
Passport file breaches reported
On January 9, February 21, and March 14, the State Department discovered three separate incidents of unauthorized access to the passport files of Obama, by three separate contract employees in three separate locations. The contract employers were contacted; in two cases the employees who accessed the files were terminated, the third was disciplined. While the first reported breach occurred on January 9, 2008, Obama was not notified of the unauthorized access to his files until March 21, 2008. Later, it was revealed that Clinton and McCain’s files had also been improperly accessed.
The State Department is conducting an investigation, to be supervised by the Acting Inspector General. The investigation will look into the privacy breaches involving the files of the presidential candidates, but will also look for other such incidents and systemic issues that may need to be addressed.
Contracting and outsourcing passport processing services
The Office of Passport Services has relied on support from contract staff for several years. There are currently 2,635 contractors working in the National Passport Information Center. The three employees who accessed the files of the presidential candidates worked at Stanley Corporation and The Analysis Corporation. Stanley, a Virginia based company, recently announced the signing of a five-year, $570-million contract to support passport services at the State Department.
The manufacturing of electronic passports has also been outsourced to overseas companies, a decision that has raised security concerns. Reps. John. D. Dingell and Bart Stupak said in a letter to the Government Printing Office that they are investigating the management, production and distribution of electronic passports.
Contents of a passport file
Passport files contain very sensitive personal information that can be used for identity theft or to stalk individuals. The contents of a passport file can include all the information that is required in a passport application. This includes:
- full name, date of birth, place of birth, gender, Social Security number, mailing address, phone numbers, email addresses;
- the names, birth dates, and citizenship information of the applicant’s parents;
- height, hair color, eye color;
- occupation, employer, permanent address, emergency contact information;
- travel plans of applicant;
- information regarding marital status, and information about spouses;
- a recent color photograph of the applicant and documents proving U.S. citizenship and proof of identity.
Candidate statements on breaches
The three presidential candidates whose passport files were improperly accessed have issued statements on the breach.
Senator Barack Obama stated on March 21, 2008 that the breaches were “deeply disturbing” and while he appreciated Condoleeza Rice’s apology, he said he expected a “full and thorough investigation”. He said, “One of the things that the American people count on in their interactions with any level of government is that if they have to disclose personal information, that it stay personal and stay private.”
Senator Hillary Clinton’s office released a statement on March 21, 2008 saying that “Clinton will closely monitor the State Department’s investigation into this and the other breaches of private passport information.”
Senator John McCain made a statement while in France on March 21, 2008. His office also released a statement saying: “The U.S. government has a responsibility to respect the privacy of all Americans. It appears that privacy was breached and I expect a thorough review and a change in procedures as necessary to ensure the privacy of all passport files.”
- Opinion: When the Privacy Band-aid Fails, ABC News, March 26, 2008.
- Outsourced passports netting govt. profits, risking national security. Washington Times, March 26, 2008.
- Officials Met Over Breached Passport Files. ABC News, March 25, 2008.
- Justice Department enters passport breach probe. CNN, March 25, 2008.
- Passport Backlog Put Data More in Hands of Contractors. Washington Post, March 25, 2008.
- What’s in a Passport File? Slate, March 24, 2008.
- Senators: Probe passport-file snooping. CNN, March 24, 2008.
- US probes passport file breaches. BBC, March 22, 2008.
- Obama urges inquiry into passport snooping. CNN, March 21, 2008.
- 2 fired in passport case with Va. Firm. Yahoo News, March 21, 2008.
- Letters from Senators Leahy and Specter to Attorney General Mukasey, March 25, 2008
- Letter from Senators Leahy and Specter to the Senate Majority and Republican leaders, March 25, 2008
- Questions taken at the March 24, 2008 Daily Press Briefing, Office of the Spokesman
- Daily Press Briefing, Sean McCormack, Spokesman, March 24, 2008
- Discussion between State Dept. Spokesperson Sean McCormack, and Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, on passport data security, March 21, 2008
- Questions Taken at the March 21, 2008 Daily Press Briefing – Unauthorized Access to Passport Records, Office of the Spokesman
- Federal Privacy Law and Accessing Personal Records Held by Federal Agencies, American Constitutional Society for Law and Policy Blog, March 21, 2008
- Statement from Senator Hillary Clinton’s office regarding passport breaches, March 21, 2008
- Statement from Senator Barack Obama regarding passport breaches, March 21, 2008
- Statement from Senator John McCain regarding passport breaches, March 21, 2008
- Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s apology, March 21, 2008
- On-the-Record Briefing on Unauthorized Accessed Passport Records, Under Secretary for Management, Patrick F. Kennedy, and State Dept. Spokesperson Sean McCormack, March 20, 2008
- Senator Clinton’s proposed Privacy Bill of Rights
- Passport Application, EPIC’s page on the Privacy Act of 1974.