Bureaucrats Abuse Gov Databases, Snoop On Neighbors And Lindsay Lohan

Low-ranking government apparatchiks are wasting taxpayer dollars and violating our trust by exploiting their access to massive government databases to look up private information on their neighbors and ex-spouses, and “doc gawk” on celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Matt Damon, James Taylor, and Tom Brady.

With access to a broad array of information, from the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS), to the anti-terrorism intelligence database Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), to the addresses and phone numbers in the state driver’s license database, the information out there on citizens is vast and the temptation for abuse is great.

Indeed, the need for government employees to be aware of proper practices surrounding personal information is big enough that TSA created a caped and masked mascot called “Privacy Man” to help get the word out. Here is a picture of him.

Safeguard your privacy. Only give out the minimum required information when filling out forms or answering questions, and don’t be afraid to challenge when you think the asker is overstepping their bounds in what they say they need to know. Also, avoid being interesting so people are less tempted to pry into your life.

Bureaucrats can’t resist celebrity snooping in government databases [Center for Investigative Reporting]

Subscribe to Ben’s posts by RSS.
Follow Ben on Twitter.
Email this reporter: ben@consumerist.com

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Alvis says:

    Leave Britney alone!

  2. Bativac says:

    “Privacy Man.” I actually clicked that and now I cannot unsee it.

    Jesus Christ, TSA. Privacy Man. Tell me somebody didn’t put that together on taxpayer time.

    • clownsRcreepy says:

      Privacy Man – “Time for your full body scan, heh heh…”

    • Cicadymn says:

      What’s that? You think we need to make the government bigger and give them more money to fun horrible things like this? Well if you insist….

  3. Macgyver says:

    This really has nothing to do with privacy, it has to do with access to information.
    Different government employees should only have access based on a clearance level (which would be based on their job function).
    Like, level 1 access, will only allow you to access a certain amount of information. Level 2 access, will allow to to access more. And so on. But all based on job function.
    This all comes down to whoever set up the network, and not setting up the correct permissions.

    • fredbiscotti says:

      Different government employees DO only have access to information based on their clearance level (federal, at least). And if people misuse, abuse, exploit or otherwise give out that information, then they are liable to lose that clearance. No clearance means they can’t work.

  4. Angus99 says:

    “TSA – It Just Keeps Getting Worse” should be the motto. Give me a break. They’re the poster child for “F&*k Your Privacy”. And think, we’ll have this gigantic monument to fail around our necks and in our lives until we die, because nobody in government will be able to take the political hit to propose we dismantle it and start over with something that actually works to improve security, instead of being a de facto jobs program.

  5. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    “Avoid being interesting”

    Check and doublecheck.

  6. DocVego says:

    Abusing the information (at least at the Federal Level) is the fastest way there is to lose your job and go to prison. Many agencies monitor access to records of ‘interesting people’ to make sure that people with access to them really needed to use them. Note that the article mentions a federal grand jury indictment.

    • tooluser says:

      And note that they don’t care if the employees abuse the information of “normal” citizens.

      • Chaosium says:

        “Normal” citizens can be steamrollered easier than celebrities, who have PR agencies and the phone numbers of influential journalists/media outlets. The media doesn’t care about our rights, but they do care about “controversy”.

  7. PlumeNoir - Thank you? No problem! says:

    ::Looks at Privacy Man pic::

    “Why are we walking like this?”

  8. jessjj347 says:

    This is why I’m paranoid about registering for anything that gives my information to government databases, e.g. Recycle Bank (gives you rewards for recycling).

  9. dreamfish says:

    If they want to know what celebrities are up to, why don’t they watch just about any TV channel, read any newspaper or any magazine? Celebrity culture seems to be the only subject covered in detail these days.

  10. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    Yesterday, I was debating with a group of photographers the reasons to blur out license plates in photos. Some pointed out that you can buy a reverse lookup on a license plate from several different companies. This story adds more fuel to the fire.

    The next logical thing for places like Wal*Mart to do would be to snap photos of peoples’ faces when they make a purchase and tie that to their data-mining database. Might as well scan the license plates of cars and use security camera tracking to tie them to specific customers. Require thumbprints to use a debit or credit card. Some day, one of these databases will be hacked and you will have no way to prove you are yourself when they steal your identity.

  11. framitz says:

    Those government systems and databases need to be audited for unauthorized record access and those that violate prosecuted.

    Advising the public is good, but that is only 1/2 the problem.

    Where I work we audit access to sensitive information for such unauthorized access. The government must do at least as much to protect citizen privacy…. but I doubt they give a damn.

  12. carlathecommander says:

    It’s not just govt. Employees of companies can snoop on what you’re buying & your address, Amazon or eBay for example.

  13. oldwiz65 says:

    Why would that be a surprise? None of these bureaucrats think they are doing anything wrong. The snooping they do is probably way less damaging to a person than the illegal snooping by the spooks.

  14. Ixnayer says:

    James Taylor, Really?

  15. bikeoid says:

    That’s nothing – I’ll bet Zuckerberg snoops on celebrities and government officials’ Facebook accounts

  16. dee1313 says:

    Banks too. We give banks lots of information, and they often don’t have a lot of requirements for their employees to access that information (I’ve worked at a bank, and was horrifed at how easily I was granted access to people’s SSNs, addresses, phone numbers, their banking history, loans (and how late they were on them), etc, etc.

    I’m sure there are other services (like Paypal) that are in the same boat.

  17. smo0 says:

    LOL… I used to look up credit cards by celebrity names when I worked at Citi.

    It was on my down time, I was bored. FYI – most of them have their cards billed to their PR agencies… at least the big time celebs do.

    Once saw a rental charge for a helicopter for 50k… must be nice!

  18. AllanG54 says:

    Years ago I worked in the credit card dept. of a bank. We looked up all the celebrities who had accounts with us just to see what they bought. Everyone did it. I even had a copy of John Lennon’s credit card app where under profession he humbly wrote “singer/songwriter.” I lost it years ago though.

  19. zifnab0 says:

    The problem is not that government doesn’t have enough oversight (after all, quo custodiet ipso custodes), but rather that the government is too intrusive.

    Do people really think these types of abuses are not going to continue with health care “reform” or single payer?