State Department to ease access to passport data

Changes to the system of records notice, or SORN, could soon release personal data to third parties.

According to a release on Wednesday from the State Department, law enforcement officials and private parties may soon be able to request personal passport details. Currently, only State Department staffers who have undergone "background security investigation" handle such requests. The change to the State Department's system of records notice, or SORN, affects records dating as far back to 1925 and addresses amendments introduced in 2007 to the Privacy and Security Act of 1974.

The State Department release, available in full via Cryptome.org, states that personal passport information (including birth certificates and any other documents used to obtain a U.S. passport) may soon be released for the following reasons:

  • To support national defense, border security, and foreign policy activities;
  • To ensure the proper functioning and integrity of law enforcement, counterterrorism, and fraud-prevention activities by supporting law enforcement personnel in the conduct of their duties;
  • To support the investigatory process; and
  • To assist with verification of passport validity to support employment eligibility and identity corroboration for public and private employment.

According to the release, records maintained by the State Department include information regarding individuals who:

  • (a) Have applied for the issuance, amendment, extension, or renewal of U.S. passport books and passport cards;
  • (b) Were issued U.S. passport books or cards, or had passports amended, extended, renewed, limited, revoked, or denied;
  • (c) Have applied to have births overseas reported as births of U.S. citizens overseas;
  • (d) Were issued a Consular Report of Birth Abroad of U.S. citizens or for whom Certification(s) of Birth have been issued;
  • (e) Applied at American Diplomatic or Consular posts for registration and have so registered;
  • (f) Were issued Cards of Registration and Identity as U.S. citizens;
  • (g) Were issued Certificates of Loss of Nationality of the United States by the Department of State;
  • (h) Applied at American Diplomatic or Consular Posts for issuance of Certificates of Witness to Marriage, and individuals who have been issued Certificates of Witness to Marriage;
  • (i) Were deceased individuals for whom a Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad has been obtained;
  • (j) Although U.S. citizens, are not or may not be entitled under relevant passport laws and regulations to the issuance or possession of U.S. passport books, cards, or other documentation or service(s);
  • (k) Have previous passport records that must be reviewed before further action can be taken on their passport application or request for other consular services;
  • (l) Requested their own or another's passport records under FOIA or the Privacy Act, whether successfully or not; or
  • (m) Have corresponded with Passport Services concerning various aspects of the issuance or denial of a specific applicant's U.S. passport books or cards.

A quick read of the entire document would suggest that any US citizen who has ever had a passport or lived abroad may soon have their personal information released for a wide number and rather vague reasons.

The 2007 changes to the Privacy Act do allow for individuals to request and review documentation on themselves and minor children for the purposes of correcting any errors. However, "third parties may request passport and vital records information from 1925 to the present, within the guidelines of the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act."

The new practice is not in effect. According to the release, new routine uses of State Department passport data require a 40-day review and comment period by the public, OMB and Congress. Although it is unclear how individuals may comment on the pending practice.

About the author

    As CNET's former resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security.

     

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