The State Department is giving law enforcement and intelligence agencies unrestricted access to the personal data of more than 145 million Americans, through information from passport applications that is shared without legal process or any apparent oversight, according to a letter sent from Sen. Ron Wyden to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and obtained by Yahoo News.
The information was uncovered by Wyden during his ongoing probe into reporting by Yahoo News about Operation Whistle Pig, a wide-ranging leak investigation launched by a Border Patrol agent and his supervisors at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center.
On Wednesday, Wyden sent a letter to Blinken requesting detailed information on which federal agencies are provided access to State Department passport information on U.S. citizens.
“I write to express serious concern that the Department of State is providing law enforcement and intelligence agencies with unfettered access to personal data, originally collected through passport applications, of the more than 145 million Americans with a passport,” states the letter sent to Blinken, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News.
Wyden, D-Ore., wrote that “the breadth of this access highlights the potential for other abuses. In a July 13, 2022, briefing for my office, State Department officials confirmed that 25 other federal agencies have access to the Department’s database of passport applications.”
According to documents posted on a Department of Homeland Security website, data collected on U.S. citizens include: names, addresses, birth dates, biometric data like fingerprints and facial images, email addresses, phone numbers, gender, race, Social Security numbers and other types of personal information.
“The [State] Department's mission does not include providing dozens of other government agencies with self-service access to 145 million Americans’ personal data,” the letter states. “The Department has voluntarily taken on this role, and in doing so, prioritized the interests of other agencies over those of law-abiding Americans. While there is a legitimate role for the use of this information by law enforcement, the current unregulated system of interagency access to millions of Americans’ records goes far beyond what a reasonable person would expect or tolerate.”