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Ninth State Department Insider Found Guilty Of Illegal Database Access

File clerk who snooped passport files of celebrities is latest to be discovered in two-year investigation

A State Department employee was sentenced yesterday to 12 months of probation for illegally accessing more than 60 confidential passport application files, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Debra Sue Brown, 47, of Oxon Hill, Md., was also ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola in the District of Columbia to perform 50 hours of community service. Brown pleaded guilty on Dec. 11, 2009, to a one-count criminal information charging her with unauthorized computer access.

According to court documents, Brown has worked full-time for the State Department since September 1995 as a file clerk and a file assistant in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In pleading guilty, Brown admitted she had access to official State Department computer databases in the regular course of her job, including the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS), which contains all imaged passport applications dating back to 1994.

The imaged passport applications on PIERS contain, among other things, a photograph of the passport applicant, as well as personal information, such as the applicant's full name, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse's name, and emergency contact information.

These confidential files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by State Department employees is strictly limited to official government duties.

Brown admitted that between March 25, 2005, and Feb. 7, 2008, she logged onto the PIERS database and repeatedly searched for and viewed the passport applications of more than 60 celebrities and their families -- actors, comedians, professional athletes, musicians, and other individuals identified in the press -- as well as personal friends and acquaintances.

Brown admitted she had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, and that her sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was idle curiosity.

To date, nine current or former State Department employees or contractors, including Brown, have pleaded guilty in this continuing investigation. The other eight insiders each accessed at least 50 confidential passport files; the worst offender accessed nearly 200. All of the nine offenders were given sentences of probation and community service.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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