Friday, December 18, 2009

Some Passport Peepers Still on the Job; Investigation Continues

Not all of the State Department employees who were caught sneaking a look at the Passport Records of the Rich and Famous were prosecuted. The Washington Times filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for more information, and learned that eleven employees - in addition to the nine who have been fired and/or prosecuted - were merely admonished and have been allowed to keep their jobs. See today's WT story: some passport snoopers still on the job.

According to investigative memos released to The Times through an open records request, the [eleven] additional workers glanced through the files out of boredom, "dumb curiosity" and "just being nosy." They were admonished by the department for their behavior but not prosecuted.

-- snip --

State Department spokesman Andrew Laine confirmed that workers given warning or admonishment letters were not fired. He added that disciplinary actions for the offense in general range from letters of warning to termination, depending on the "frequency and motivation of the misconduct."

The employees offered the usual explanations, ranging from "just being nosy" to "I didn't know it was wrong." Some of them said they were following a suggestion given to them during training sessions to look up family members or celebrities as a way to become familiar with the electronic records system.

The State Department has instituted many procedural changes and done a lot of re-training, but it might not have completely solved this problem yet.

In a redacted report on the problems issued earlier this year, the inspector general's office found "control weaknesses relating to the prevention and detection of unauthorized access to passport and applicant information."

Last month, the nonpartisan Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a lawsuit seeking the release of an unredacted report, saying few of the inspector general's recommendations were made public. The center filed the lawsuit after making an open records request for the information.

Ginger McCall, staff counsel for the center, said the lack of disclosure makes it hard to determine the extent of the passport snooping problems within the State Department.

"If they fixed the problem, then there should be no reason to keep the report redacted," she said.

In a separate recent report to Congress, the inspector general said investigations into passport snooping were continuing. The report said a result of the investigations is that "the department has enacted greater safeguards to protect the privacy of electronically stored passport-related information."

No comments: