26 March 2008
There have been a lot of news stories about State Department workers looking at the passport files of the major presidential candidates. That is unquestionably a violation of their privacy; beyond that, given that a similar incident in 1992 was motivated by political concerns, a full investigation is warranted.
However — I really want to talk about the good news. The passport file system has some pretty good privacy protection: it's possible to flag the records of prominent people; supervisors are notified when their records are accessed. Some years ago, at least, the IRS did not have such a feature and it was indeed a problem.
There's one more feature I'd add to that: random audits of records accessed by employees. That would help deter — or detect — snooping on people who aren't celebrities. For all I know, the system already has that; if not, they've taken a good first step with what they have done.