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Passport snooping public servant faces year in the can

'Idle curiosity' spurs celeb data breach

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A bored former State Department analyst faces up to a year behind bars as a result of his penchant for reading the passport files of celebrities.

Lawrence Yontz, 48, of Arlington, Virginia, looked as the passport applications of Barack Obama and John McCain as well as various unnamed celebs, athletes, businessmen, and even game show contestants between February 2005 and March 2008.

Yontz admitted accessing around 200 passport records on Monday in violation of State Department rules on authorised access to computer records as part of a plea-bargaining deal.

He used the State Department's Passport Information Electronic Records System, which hold data on 127 million US passport holders, as an encyclopedia for no other reason than "idle curiosity," according to a DoJ statement on the case, Wired reports.

Around 20,000 workers have access to the system which was slammed as being run without "policies, procedures, guidance, and training" by a government audit back in July.

The audit was prompted by public reports of the unauthorised access to the passport records system by three workers, which created a huge stink.

The other workers involved in the affair avoided criminal prosecution but faced internal disciplinary hearings that concluded they were motivated by nothing worse than curiosity, Computerworld reports.

Yontz is the only person charged in the case. By drawing attention to the security shortcomings of the system, he may have inadvertently done everyone a favour in helping to spur action to prevent identity theft-motivated data harvesting, or other such serious malfeasance, in future. Computerworld adds that systems in place at the time of the breaches warned that sensitive data was been accessed for no good reasons but managers failed to act on these warnings.

Yontz faces a sentencing hearing penciled in for 19 December. ®

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