Federal workers view celebrity passport files

Inspector general's report highlights security issues

WASHINGTON -- Federal government workers' interest in stargazing extends to celebrities' passports as the State Department's inspector general found that famous people's passport records were among those that were repeatedly viewed by officials.

In a highly censored report issued late Friday the inspector general hinted that some workers were motivated more by a fascination with the private lives of celebrities than national security interests. None of the individuals was named.

The audit was prompted by the discovery in March that three of the department's contract workers had peeked at the private passport files of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain and that a State Department trainee had examined the file of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The inspector general made 22 recommendations for improving security, but many of them -- and seemingly most of the report -- were blanked out because officials feared they would provide a road map to further abuse of the system.

Investigators found that 20,500 government workers and contractors had access to the electronic system that maintained the records. Most of them worked for the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security. Five contractors already have been fired, and dozens of people are under investigation for alleged snooping that took place in offices across the United States and even overseas.

The 192 million passport files maintained by the State Department contain individuals' passport applications, which include data such as Social Security numbers, physical descriptions and names and places of birth of the applicants' parents. Otherwise, the files provide limited information; they do not contain records of overseas travel or visa stamps from previous passports.