Passport Security Breaches Show Privacy Vulnerabilities

March 21, 2008

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org

<?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 />Washington, DCAmerican Civil Liberties Union comments on the passport security breaches at the State Department:

Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel, said, “The State Department needs to immediately send this to the Justice Department for potential prosecution under the Privacy Act of 1974. This is a critical test of whether that Act still matters. From what we are learning, this is exactly the kind of government snooping that can lead to civil and criminal sanctions. The only question is: Does the Bush administration have the will to investigate its own employees for privacy violations?” Sparapani said that if there was any disclosure of information to a third party even a casual mention—then that is a crime under the Privacy Act and the Justice Department should investigate.”

He added, “If you think that your passport data is vulnerable—and it is—just wait until Real ID puts all of our most sensitive data in one giant database that is ripe for the picking.”

Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program said, “A government insider stealing private information is all too common – ranging from department of motor vehicle records to the national crime database. Yet hardly anyone is ever prosecuted or punished. We need to join the rest of the civilized world and enact strong privacy laws that protect our sensitive data from rogue employees and contractors.” 

Noting that the government has not identified the names of the contractors or the companies they worked for, Steinhardt said “It looks like the only party whose privacy is being protected here is the contractors. The government is outsourcing a core function and won’t tell us to whom.”

Steinhardt continued, “Because we know that curiosity killed the cat, rigid controls on who accesses government databases containing personally identifiable information are a must.  Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain have just learned first hand about the dangers of the information age when the government aggregates huge amounts of our data but leaves it relatively unsecured. This is a cautionary tale. We just wonder whether there would be any news about an all too common privacy violation if the files of John Q. Public were peeked at instead.”

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