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3/21/2008
02:08 AM
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Obama Suffers Personal Data Breach

State Department contractors under investigation for accessing passport files without authorization

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is the latest high-profile victim of a personal data breach, after three State Department employees gained unauthorized access to his passport files.

Breaking news update: The State Department this afternoon said that the passport files of presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain were also breached, according to the Associated Press.

Pop star Britney Spears recently suffered a similar breach of privacy after several employees, including doctors, at the UCLA Medical Center were either fired or disciplined for peeking at Spears’s medical records while she was hospitalized there for psychiatric care. (See Curiosity Over Britney Kills Careers of 13 Cats.)

But the Obama breach has obvious political implications, and has spurred an investigation over whether the breaches were politically motivated, according to an Associated Press report. The State Department said the breaches of Obama’s passport records transpired on Jan. 9, Feb. 21, and March 14.

State Department Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy told reporters last night that the breaches were "flagged" by a computer system that sends out an alert when an unauthorized user tries to view the records.

Two of the three employees, which were all contractors for the State Department, were fired, and another disciplined before senior State Department officials were informed of the breaches. "I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line," Kennedy said in a press conference call. "It was dealt with at the office level."

Just what personal information the State Department employees actually accessed is unclear, but the agency’s inspector general is investigating the incidents.

Obama’s Senate office was notified yesterday about the breach. His campaign staff, meanwhile, is calling for an in-depth investigation: “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," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama's presidential campaign.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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