The Passport Flap

Liberals were momentarily excited when it was reported that contract employees processing passport applications for the State Department had accessed Barack Obama’s file. E.J. Dionne wrote:

This is a weird and troubling story: Glenn Kessler reports that the State Department announced Thursday night “that it had fired two contract employees and disciplined a third for accessing Sen. Barack Obama’s passport file.” *** Yes, indeed, this deserves investigating. What do you think happened? Do you find this as troubling as I do?

Dionne’s liberal commenters responded as mindlessly as you would expect, with suggestions that “Bush’s State Department”–as though there has ever been any such thing!–was snooping on Obama. They were a little chagrined, no doubt, when it turned out that contractors or employees had accessed Hillary Clinton’s and John McCain’s passport files, as well.
The latter transgressions were discovered only because the State Department looked for them. If it were to investigate whether the passport files of other famous people–Britney Spears, say–have been improperly accessed, they would likely get the same results. It seems doubtful that there is anything interesting in any of these people’s passport files, but if you’re working on passports all day, and that’s what you have access to, a certain number of people are going to succumb to temptation and look at a famous person’s file.
This kind of thing happens a lot, generally as a result of human curiosity rather than political machination. In a more sinister form, it happened to Britney Spears when hospital employees looked at her medical records. She has much better cause for complaint, I think, than Obama, Clinton or McCain. Something similar is at work when autopsy photographs turn up on the web, or pictures of Princess Diana taken just after her fatal accident. The battle between curiosity and the desire for privacy is never-ending.
Generally, respectable opinion favors privacy rights. But good occasionally comes from curiosity and snooping, too. Liberals certainly believe this; their favorite news stories are generally based on leaks of information or documents that were designated as secret. Let’s give the State Department contractors this much credit: if they saw anything interesting in Obama’s passport file, at least they didn’t leak it to the Washington Post.

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