A former U.S. Department of State employee has been sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to pay a US$5,000 fine for snooping on more than 50 electronic passport application files, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Gerald R. Lueders, 65, of Woodbridge, Virginia, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to one count of unauthorized computer access.
Lueders worked in various capacities at the State Department, from June 1974 to February of this year, the DOJ said. Lueders told the court 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.
The imaged passport applications on PIERS contain a photograph of the passport applicant, 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 Privacy Act of 1974 and access by State Department employees is strictly limited to official government duties, the DOJ said.
Lueders was among a group of about five State Department employees or contractors who were targeted for prosecution after March 2008 news reports of employees there accessing the electronic passport files of three presidential candidates, Senators John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The inspector general's office at the State Department later found that there had been widespread breaches of PIERS. Obama was elected president in November, and he appointed Clinton secretary of state in charge of the State Department.
The agency inspector general's office looked at the passport files of 150 politicians, entertainers and athletes and found that 127 of those passports had been accessed at least once between September 2002 and March 2008. Those passport files were accessed 4,148 times during that period and one person's passport was searched 356 times by 77 users.
Those reports prompted members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to call for prosecutions of the passport snoopers.
Between July 2005 and February 2008, Lueders logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of more than 50 celebrities, actors, politicians, musicians, athletes, members of the media, business professionals, colleagues and other individuals, the DOJ said. Lueders told the court 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 idle curiosity.
Lueders is the third current or former State Department employee to plead guilty in the continuing investigation. In September, Lawrence C. Yontz, a former foreign service officer and intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing nearly 200 confidential passport files. Yontz was sentenced on Dec. 19 to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service.
On Jan. 14, Dwayne F. Cross, a former administrative assistant and contract specialist, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 150 confidential passport files. On March 23, Cross was sentenced to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.