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Passport Files of Presidential Hopefuls Snooped 204

CNN is reporting on the widening brouhaha that began when Barack Obama's passport file was accessed illegally on three occasions beginning in January. Now it seems that John McCain's file was also snooped; and that last year Hillary Clinton's file suffered the same fate. Ars Technica nails the real importance of these breaches, saying that the Presidential hopefuls are "...currently providing the country with a very public lesson in why the 'privacy advocates' who oppose initiatives like Real ID and the executive branch's domestic surveillance programs should really be called 'democracy advocates.' In short..., the entire incident shows exactly why citizens' privacy is critical in a country where citizens compete with one another for control of the government."
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Passport Files of Presidential Hopefuls Snooped

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  • by The End Of Days ( 1243248 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @07:37PM (#22832628)
    I see it as a reason that all passport information should be freely accessible to anyone who wants it. After all, it's owned by the public already. Full transparency is a more effective solution than full opacity because it's both easier to achieve, and eliminates abuses by making them uses.
    • by Headcase88 ( 828620 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @07:59PM (#22832760) Journal
      That's awesome, let me try one.

      Bribes to congressman should be legal; they're going to take bribes anyway, so if they're illegal it will accomplish making congress look bad, which in turn diminishes the integrity of the government and country which is bad for us all.

      Except bribing congress is pretty much legal already, and I'd imagine they came up with a better excuse than that for why :/
    • OK. What's your name, address, social security number, and mother's maiden name?

      Identity fraud is a problem for anyone. For high level politicians, it has national security implications.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by fishbowl ( 7759 )
        >OK. What's your name, address, social security number, and mother's maiden name?

        There is far more than that in a passport record, and for a passport record with
        diplomatic credentials, assuredly more than a regular citizen passport.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by spazmonkey ( 920425 )
      One camp (Clinton) is already trying unfortunately.

      Turns out, one of the contract companies who had one of the involved employees (and by definition was therefore on the payroll of that company) just happens to have a CEO that is an Obama campaign supporter. Thus, The Clinton camp is trying to desperately distort it into "someone associated with the Obama campaign "paid" the guy who snooped."

      Turns out, the CEO of the OTHER contract company who had the remaining two employees that were involved in th
    • Full transparency is a more effective solution than full opacity because it's both easier to achieve, and eliminates abuses by making them uses.

      In general, full transparency is not a solution to privacy problems, though, because not everyone has equal power given the information. If a public official knows my name and address, he can look me up on all kinds of databases and, more to the point, make entries on all kinds of databases that may ultimately cause harm to me. If I know his name and address, what am I going to do, go stand outside his house with a sign saying "Abuser of power!"?

      I read a much better articulated version of this argument

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 22, 2008 @07:43PM (#22832686)
    This was news a few days ago, and there are sites a lot better than AT that can cover this type of thing.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @07:46PM (#22832702)
    Government has unprecedented data gathering and search capabilities, and is seeking increases in those capabilities. These capabilities are hard to prevent; even if Real ID and similar programs get turned back increased capabilities are the inevitable result of easy to create networks, increasing computer performance and data storage capacity.

    Along with that should go greatly increased penalties for the abuse of these capabilities. Firing a contractor seems hardly sufficient. Anyone performing this sort of act should serve significant jail time, financial penalties, and so on. If repeat offenses occur the company for whom the contractor works should be banned from future government related contracts.

    • by fyoder ( 857358 )

      Along with that should go greatly increased penalties for the abuse of these capabilities. Firing a contractor seems hardly sufficient.

      Firing does seem inadequate, but you want go easy on the knee jerk throw all the baddies in jail response, given that the US already has one of the highest incarceration rates expressed as percentage of population. Simpler would be to cut off a hand for the first offense, the other hand for a second, and so on from there depending on what body part they are using to access a computer. I think most would stop with the first amputation.

      • If you you read my posting more carefully, it was a generalized call for stiffer penalties that included jail as merely one option. Amputation isn't something that has cultural precedent in modern America, but surely other options are possible.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dangitman ( 862676 )

      Government has unprecedented data gathering and search capabilities, and is seeking increases in those capabilities. These capabilities are hard to prevent;

      Along those lines: technology has increased the capability for copying and sharing intellectual property. So, shouldn't we have much stiffer penalties on things like filesharing and copying of music? Perhaps we should allow the RIAA to directly arrest people they suspect of these crimes, or perhaps shoot them on sight? After all, technology makes this a much more serious issue.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 22, 2008 @07:48PM (#22832708)
    .. is how terrible Hilary's passport photograph is.
    • I'd bet it is fine.

      The reason most people have terrible passport photos is they're taken by disinterested photographers (or even machines) using cheap equipment.

      Having said that, the new laws about not smiling and so on sure don't help.
  • ...that the actual culprits (of the most recent "oopses") were an employees of a contractor run by an Obama adviser, John O. Brennan []. The previous one was a trainee who was instructed to test the access with a family member's name. I'm neither for nor against Obama, but he crowed the loudest and it was people answering to someone in his camp, not from "the administration". ...interesting...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    that the program that caught them was one designed to track the access of the records of "high-profile Americans?" Because it doesn't matter if the rest of us have our passport files snooped? What do you need to do, exactly, to be "high-profile?"
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Samari711 ( 521187 )
      High profile people are more likely to have their records accessed unnecessarily than any of us. The flags were put in place after Bill Clinton had his records searched by political enemies trying to prove he dodged the draft during his first run for president. Hopefully they have an access/audit trail for the records so that if something improper goes on it can be properly investigated but sending up an alert every time everyone's records are accessed would be a pretty stupid idea.
  • by Bananenrepublik ( 49759 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @08:05PM (#22832802)
    According to the article, if they hadn't looked at famous people's records, they wouldn't have gotten caught. In other words it's common for these contractors to look at various people's passport records, only these few were stupid enough to choose to snoop after famous people besides their usual routine of checking on their neighbors, unfaithful spouses, the girl they're stalking, etc.
    • I hope that that statue of limitations in in effect now, but in case it isn't I'll fuzz a few of the facts. A few years back, I was working for a state office that had a disaster recovery aggreement with the department that handles driver's licenses. So, I was alone in their computer room, and there was a terminal logged into the driver's license database. I did a search of my name, and sure enough there were my records. Then I did searches of several other people, including the governor. At the time, the records included your SSN, but this was before anyone had heard of identity theft so I didn't think anything of it. I didn't take any notes of anything I saw, and cleared the screen before anyone got back. I don't think any investigation was done; at least no one contacted me wanting to know why my records might have been the first ones searched.
      • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *
        I'm impressed that you actually knew who the governor of your state was. You must be some kind of intellectual.
    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      Excellent. We wouldn't want the famous snooped on by the wrong sort of people.
    • the girl they're stalking
      It's not stalking! It's intelligence!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 22, 2008 @08:24PM (#22832904)
    At the beginning of the week, Stanley, the outsourcing services providing who employed the contractors responsible for the snooping, was awarded a $600 million five year contract to continue providing services for the State Department.

    Am I the only one who finds it a bit convenient that word of the snooping wasn't released until two days after the contract was awarded, over two months after the first snooping against Obama occurred? You'd almost think they had some friends in high places who made sure it didn't become public, since that's the kind of revelation that could have put a big roadblock on their contract award.

    I wonder what those involved in suppressing the information will be receiving from Stanley? A cushy job or consulting contract? Campaign contributions for high ranking State Department staffers who might be thinking about a run for Congress in 2010 should the republicans lose the White House?
    • This is how our political systems works right now - corruption - pay offs - lobbiests... The is EXACTLY the kind of cr@p Obama is wanting to put a stop to! Vote for Hillary or McCain and this kind of stuff WILL continue if not get worse....

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @08:36PM (#22832950)
    OK, one last time, democracy and freedom have no inherent connection to one another. What you want is a liberal, accountable government which would make you a "liberty advocate," not a "democracy advocate."

    I could care less about the "state of democracy" in America. What I want is the state of the Constitution, something that often is sacrificed by public approval.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cmacb ( 547347 )
      I agree with the point you are trying to make regarding the two terms, but as a practical matter are there any governments with a significant amount of freedom for individuals that are not also democracies?

      It certainly makes more sense to confound freedom and democracy than it does to confound liberty and liberal, certainly in modern use. I'm very much in favor of liberty, which is why I've never considered myself a liberal (in the modern sense). Federal government insertion into every aspect of our lives
    • Come again? Democracy works only if the population is informed and in control.

      How can you have a working democracy if the population isn't free? Let's see what Wikipedia says about that:

      Political freedom is the absence of interference with the sovereignty of an individual by the use of coercion or aggression. The members of a free society would have full dominion over their public and private lives. The opposite of a free society would be a totalitarian state, which highly restricts political freedom in ord

  • Guess some one is going to be regretting that little trip to Mistress Mandy's Island of Pain now aren't they.
  • by tomharvey ( 301998 ) <t_a_harvey&yahoo,com> on Saturday March 22, 2008 @08:45PM (#22833002)
    How dare they NOT snoop Ron Paul's passport records? He's still running for president, you know. []
  • by SirStanley ( 95545 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @09:00PM (#22833084) Homepage
    So we're concerned about the relatively innocuous data that is found in passport files? Thank god they don't keep track of our health records! Oh wait... that may be coming next.
  • The real question to me is, what is actually in there that is so helpful, or harmful, to other people besides idle curiosity? Unless some candidate outright lied on their application, how useful really is this information in the first place?
  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <> on Saturday March 22, 2008 @09:35PM (#22833260)

    The single most elementary premise upon which a free society is based is that the state has absolutely no right to interfere in any way whatsoever with a citizen who is going about his legal business. None. Any infringement on this standard is the beginning of the end, because it places the welfare of the state above the welfare of the people who are supposed to be its masters.

    Yes, sometimes terrorists and common criminals will take advantage of this freedom to inflict damage. That's part of the price you pay. If you aren't willing to pay, or even have your children pay, then pack up and move to Communist China. You and your children will be safe there, as long as you keep your mouths shut.

    I can go on for ages with reasons why people who are supposed to be your servants, like politicians, cops and bureaucrats, are always so anxious to persuade you that just a little tiny surrender will save the children and kittens and puppies. It won't, and they'll want more. And more. And more.

    And never forget that this one of those cases where mutual accommodation is possible in only one direction. If I impose rigorous privacy laws, I can agree that you don't value privacy and leave you to whatever lifestyle pleases you. You aren't affected in any way, because you can still give as much information as you want to anybody you want to have it. On the other hand, when you impose your anti-privacy laws, there's no room for me to be left alone with my choice.

    • by icebike ( 68054 )
      > the state has absolutely no right to interfere in any way whatsoever with a
      > citizen who is going about his legal business.

      What part of looking constitutes interference ?

      They have to present this passport to government officials upon arrival in every country they visit.
      Why should they expect privacy in this matter?

      Your argument is more valid with regard to the requirement for passports in the first place, but seems wide of the mark for those expecting privacy once they have bought into the requireme
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by fishbowl ( 7759 )

        >They have to present this passport to government officials upon arrival in every country they visit.
        >Why should they expect privacy in this matter?

        There is more information in the State Department's passport file than what is on the passport.
        In particular, it lists the amount of money you have taken into and out of the country, and there
        is information specific to people who travel with diplomatic credentials. The passport itself may
        have visa stamps, but it does not contain transcripts of interviews
  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @10:11PM (#22833386)
    Why should anyone running for a public office (or holding one) have any assumption of privacy for a US passport?

    I would think entry/exit data should be public information, as well as each country visited using that passport, which after all, was provided at public expense, backed by the tax payers, carries with it an expectation of the US government using its influence to secure the safe travel of these people who are de-facto targets of people who would harm the US.

    I could make the same case for anyone, really, why should you expect your world travels to be a private matter? What could be more public than world travel?

    At most these workers would seem to have violated an unauthorized use of computing resource rules. The fact that it was a political candidate LESSENS the infraction in my opinion.

    The fact that they WERE ABLE TO access the information means heads should roll, but not their heads. Why aren't the IT folks being keel hauled instead of these drones? What kind of security does this agency have where the biggest impediment to access is a "thou shalt not"?

  • by tiqui ( 1024021 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @10:32PM (#22833474)

    I do not want some bloated, mis-managed, government agency to have all of my medical records, employment records, or business records. If anybody thinks some sub-contracted flunky at a keyboard will be happy snooping through the passport records of his fellow citizens after their medical records become available as part of some similarly unsecured, poorly engineered, unsupervised federal bureaucracy, you're kidding yourself. This stuff is rapidly spinning out of control and the only way to put the brakes on it is to head back toward what the country started with: a small, tightly focused federal government that keeps records on its citizens to the minimum degree practical.

    This situation was bad enough when the idiots in government had our data. It gets worse now that government is outsourcing work to non-government people who will never be properly held to account; it opens the way for outside entities to gain access to the data by hiring people to do temporary data harvesting jobs, injecting those people into those outsourced government positions, then acting shocked and "firing" them when they get caught (with bonuses and options to be re-hired later by another division...) That may not be what happened here, but it will happen as the government gets more of our data and that data becomes more interesting/valuable to outsiders.

    Your privacy, like your reputation, is not a physical thing; once you hand it over or damage it, you can never get it back.

  • Non-story (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jadin ( 65295 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @12:37AM (#22833976) Homepage
    Kind of a non-story for me. Reading articles on this it really seems like it was a curious employee who wasn't paying enough attention to the warnings given and or consequences about private data. Honestly I blame our celebrity lifestyle for this. Everyone is so wrapped up in famous people they forget about what they are authorized to do. I find it hard to judge someone for letting their curiosity get the better of them.

    If you were given the power, how many of you would resist the urge to look up Natalie Portman's [insert your favorite opposite sex celebrity here] passport?

    That's what most of the information is pointing to. (Unless of course this is what they want me to conclude.) Now if it's politically motivated such as Nixon era privacy breaching I'd probably feel differently about it.
  • Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Sunday March 23, 2008 @01:50AM (#22834368) Homepage
    From the TFA:

    I could spell out the political potential inherent in the executive branch's massive domestic surveillance program by drawing parallels to the government's Vietnam-era spying on anti-war protesters and civil rights leaders like MLK, but I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader.

    Translation: Utterly and completely without cause I'll put in some unrelated hot-button stuff and then try to pretend I didn't.

    As I've reported previously, the major problem with Real ID is that local DMV and law enforcement officials will have access to an unprecedented amount of sensitive information on anyone with a Real ID--scanned copies of any documents used to establish identity, like birth certificates, bank statements, pay stubs, property tax bills, and so on, not to mention driving histories from other states. Now imagine all of that data in the hands of a crooked sheriff who's fighting off a reformist challenger in a hotly contested election. Do you really want to live in that world?

    Translation: Utterly and completely without cause I'll put in some unrelated hot-button stuff and invoke scary scenarios forwarding my own agenda.
    Etc... Etc...
    And really, that's the whole point of this [Ars Technica] 'news' story - not to tell the news, but to slant it and spin it until it is no longer recognizable and then to attach editorial comments unrelated to main story. If Faux News, CNN, or one of the other big networks did this, Slashdot and the rest of the blogosphere would be up in arms about such journalistic misbehavior.
  • I have nothing to hide ... but that IS completely beside the point.

    I'll give a shit about this when I can pick up the phone and not think it is already bugged or being listened to.
    I'll give a shit when I can see the records of the numbers that were bugged in this country WITHOUT A WARRANT.
    I'll give a shit the day I can use my computer and not worry about the links I click on.

    Trust me ... one day I will give a shit. One day. Today, I do not. I think it is funny and their information should be freakin' publis
  • " Chief of firm involved in breach is Obama adviser" []

    * Story Highlights
    * Source: John Brennan advises Barack Obama on foreign policy, intelligence issues
    * The passport files of three presidential contenders were improperly accessed
    * A contractor for the Analysis Corp. has been disciplined
    * Two contracto

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.