Former Gov't Worker Pleads Guilty to Viewing Passport Files

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A former employee of the U.S. Department of State pleaded guilty Monday to illegally accessing hundreds of confidential passport application files, including files of celebrities, politicians, athletes and members of the media, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

Lawrence C. Yontz, 48, of Arlington, Virginia, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a one-count criminal information charging him with unauthorized computer access.

Yontz faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a US$100,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Recent news reports of unauthorized access to passport files, including those of U.S. presidential candidates, have led to U.S. lawmakers calling for stricter controls at the State Department.

Between September 1987 and April 1996, Yontz served as a foreign service officer for the State Department. He returned to the agency as a contract employee in January 2004 to work as an intelligence analyst within the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. During his employment, Yontz said he had access to official State Department computer databases, including the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS), which contains all imaged passport applications dating back to 1994, according to court documents.

The imaged passport applications on PIERS contain a photograph of the passport applicant and personal information including the applicant's full name, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse's name and emergency contact information. These confidential files are protected by the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974, and access by State Department employees is strictly limited to official government duties, the DOJ said in a press release.

Yontz acknowledged that between February 2005 and March 2008, he logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of approximately 200 celebrities, athletes, actors, politicians, musicians, game-show contestants, members of the media, prominent business professionals, colleagues, associates, neighbors and individuals identified in the press, the DOJ said in a press release.

In his plea, Yontz admitted that he had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, but that his sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was curiosity, the DOJ said.

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