A former employee at the U.S. Department of State was sentenced to 12 months of probation Friday for illegally accessing more than 75 confidential passport application files, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
William Celey, 28, of Washington, D.C., was also ordered to perform 50 hours of community service by U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On July 10, Celey pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information charging him with unauthorized computer access.
Celey, who worked as a file assistant for the State Department from August 2003 to July 2004, had access to the agency’s computer databases, including the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS). That database contains imaged passport applications dating back to 1994.
In pleading guilty, Celey said that between June 22 and July 15, 2004, he logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of more than 75 celebrities and their families, actors, models, musicians, athletes, record producers, family members, a politician and other individuals. Celey had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, but his sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was “idle curiosity,” the DOJ said.
PIERS contains personal information including 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 files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by State Department employees is limited to official government duties.
Celey is the sixth current or former State Department employee to plead guilty in this continuing investigation. A group of State Department employees or contractors 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.
The 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 time frame, and one person’s passport was searched 356 times by 77 users.