Sen. Wyden Reveals State Department Gives Law Enforcement Unfettered Access to Sensitive Data from 145 Million Americans

November 4, 2022

Senator Ron Wyden revealed in a letter today and announced by Yahoo! News that the U.S. State Department allows 25 federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to freely access to a key database of personal information, the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD). Sen. Wyden called for the State Department to implement reforms to (1) develop a policy to limit access to CCD to legitimate purposes, (2) provide notice when the State Department disseminates information to other agencies, (3) publish annual statistics on outside agency use of CCD, and (4) engage with agencies with more privacy expertise to align use of the CCD with privacy best practices.

Data in the CCD is pulled from applications for visas, passports, and American Citizen Services and includes names, addresses, birthdates, fingerprints, facial images, racial identifiers, social security numbers, alien registration numbers, and countries of origin. There are no apparent warrant requirements or meaningful procedural limits on using the database. Wyden’s investigation stems from an earlier Yahoo! News report that a Border Patrol agent at the National Targeting Center used government databases to wrongfully surveil a reporter. Wyden is seeking additional information from the State Department about law enforcement access to the CCD.

Sen. Wyden’s letter expands on documents EPIC obtained in EPIC v. State Department, a FOIA case revealing how the State Department allows many agencies access to its Consular Consolidated Database. The CCD contains current and archived data about U.S. persons (i.e., citizens and legal permanent residents) and non-U.S. persons (i.e., foreign nationals). EPIC obtained and published memoranda of understanding between the State Department and more than a dozen federal agencies allowing access to the CCD, include the Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security/ the FBI. EPIC works to document the information contained in government databases and advocates for access restrictions and minimization requirements for personal data collected by the government.

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