Passport Privacy Violation
Once again, a U.S. State Department clerk was charged with passport privacy violation of celebrities. In 2008, it was disclosed that the State Department workers had accessed passport information of various ex-presidential candidates such as Hilary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama. Although State Department workers have authorized system access for viewing passport information of millions of US citizens, any access must be for legitimate business needs. The State Department's inspector general reported that the personal information of high-profile Americans such as politicians, musicians, athletes and actors have been inappropriately accessed and viewed thousands of times in the past.
The system containing passport information includes personal information about the passport applicants such as social security number, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse's name and emergency contact information, according to the indictment. Although it also includes a picture of the passport applicant, the picture is not as useful as the information in the passport applications.
The State Department worker apparently accessed the system inappropriately 300 times during a period of a little over 2 years out of her 4 years of employment. She had viewed the passport applications of "celebrities, actors, reality television contestants, television personalities, musicians, models, athletes, and members of these individuals' families, including their children" according to reported news.
Her illegal passport privacy violation was detected by the government investigators who had contacted her regarding her suspicious activities; however, she was able to explain her actions as an accident due to similar names and mistaken identities.
I have previously raised these concerns over the protection of high target identities which are even more exposed to disclosure and fraud due to their fame, excellent credit score, and high credit limits. When an opportunity exists to view celebrity information such as in this passport privacy violation case or where health and medical information are abundantly available along with plenty of justifications and incentives, some people with access to such information WILL at some point abuse their privileged access. It is up to the State Department to monitor its workers who have nothing to lose but their low wages to satisfy their appetite for curiosity and self satisfaction. Nowadays pieces of our personal information can be found online and other sources through a few creative approaches. Personal information of other people can even be obtained from credit reporting agencies if they can be manipulated to mistakenly share the information which has happened before.
On a separate note, the problem from a fraud standpoint is not just the easy access to information but rather the extent of reliance businesses place on the information for authorizing transactions. Although tougher identity theft penalties will help us with the fight against identity theft, when personal information which is so heavily relied on for authorizing transactions and easily obtained from various sources including email accounts and cell phones by guessing the simple security questions, the battle against identity theft is far from being over.
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