The Washington Post reports:
The State Department said last night that it had fired two contract employees and disciplined a third for accessing Sen. Barack Obama’s passport file.
Obama’s presidential campaign immediately called for a “complete investigation.”
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the employees had individually looked into Obama’s passport file on Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14. To access such a file, the employees must first acknowledge a pledge to keep the information private.
The employees were each caught because of a computer-monitoring system that is triggered when the passport accounts of a “high-profile person” are accessed, he said. The system was put in place after the State Department was embroiled in a scandal involving the access of the passport records of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992.
“The State Department has strict policies and controls on access to passport records by government and contract employees,” Casey said.
The department uses contract employees to help with data entry, customer service and other administration tasks. The employee involved in the March 14 incident has only been disciplined so far, because the probe of that incident is continuing, an official said.
My translation is that the State Department, “in order to serve you better”, violates the principle of separation of privilege and allows individual contract call center people to access the passport data for everybody in the country. Then, after a high-profile person has his privacy grossly violated (they ran Clinton’s file because of malicious, false rumors he renounced his US citizenship during the Viet Nam era), they put in detective controls (not preventative — too obvious), but these only work for important people.
Luckily, Bill Burton, spokesman for Senator Obama, has a keen grasp of the issues:
“This is a serious matter that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to know who looked at Senator Obama’s passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach.”
One way to learn some of that, as I am sure Mr. Burton’s boss knows, is to get a decent national breach notification law.
While State may have been slow, they did the right thing, and canned the violators. Nothing reinforces a security policy better than a public execution, and nothing undermines one more effectively than blatant non-enforcement. With recent privacy breaches affecting not just semi-celebs like Presidential candidates, but also really important people, making sure that punishment is swift and sure seems like an obvious way to “incentivize good behavior”.