Imagine you are the 67th Secretary of State of the United States. You're the wife of the 42nd President of the United States. You were the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001. To top it all off, you were the United States Senator from the Great State of New York from 2001 through 2008. And, oh yeah, were were also almost President yourself.
You spend your days in high-level meetings, at State receptions and balls, meeting with heads of state, dining on fine china in gilded halls.
Now, imagine you work for the Secretary of State. You are way, way, way down the pecking order. You are a simple civil servant, a drone among drones.
You work in some enclosed office somewhere, in the bowels of some government building. You're at pretty much the same pay grade you've been at since 1995. You do pretty much the same incomprehensibly boring work you've been doing since 1995. Rather than breaking bread with the world's top leaders, you eat yet another Hot Pocket at your desk, like you've done every day for the last 15 years.
You do your job well. It's an important job, like all government jobs are important to the smooth operation of the ship of state. But you, you -- you're not important at all. You just work here.
You might be Debra Sue Brown, 47, of Oxon Hill, Maryland. You've been working since September 1995 as a file clerk and a file assistant in the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Or you might be Dwayne F. Cross, 41, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. From August 2001 through February 2008, you served as an administrative assistant in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Overseas Citizens Services, Children's Issues. Then, in 2008, you became a contractor, working as a contract specialist for the acquisitions office.
Or, perhaps, you're Lawrence C. Yontz, a former foreign service officer and intelligence analyst. You could be Gerald R. Leuders, a former foreign service officer, Office of Consular Affairs watch officer and recruitment coordinator.
Or, you could have been one of at least five other State Department employees, working long hours in your dead-end job.
Whether you are Debra Sue, Dwayne, Larry, or Jerry...sometimes you got just a little bored. And then you got just a little curious.
Boredom and curiosity are a dangerous combination. It's a wonder my parents survived my pre-teen years.
Anyway, as it turns out Debra Sue, Dwayne, and the rest all had access to a particularly interesting database system, the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).
The passport system has a lot of interesting data on it. According to the Justice Department, PIERS contains:
...a photograph of the passport applicant as well as certain personal information including the applicant’s full name, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse’s name and emergency contact information.
Our story takes an interesting turn because all nine of these State Department employees, apparently independently, discovered they could get into PIERS and, you know, look stuff up.
And they did. They each looked up between 60 and 150 different individuals: celebrities, actors, comics, musicians, politicians, athletes, models, members of the media, family members, friends, and so on and so on and so on.
As it turns out, none of the nine worked with each other or colluded in any way. They each, independently, discovered a way -- when they were desperately, mind-numbingly bored -- to entertain themselves with PIERS.
Also, as it also turns out, this is illegal. Dwayne was sentenced in 2009 to 12 months of probation and 100 hours of community service. Last Thursday, Debra Sue felt the long arm of the law come down on her. She got 50 hours of community service.
Hillary's State Department
So why am I telling you about this, and why did I introduce it with the story of Hillary Clinton in the beginning? It's simple, really. Yesterday, when I ran the Palin piece, a lot of our more conservative readers felt I was siding with the lefty liberals.
Today, I tried to find a government and technology story that the right wingers could sink their teeth into, just to be fair and balanced. I found a lot of good stuff -- including for some reason the strange and completely-unrelated-to-anything detail that Iceland has decided to ban strip clubs -- but nothing that was both tech and government and would appeal to the loyal opposition.
Hillary always seems to be fair game. When this story of illegal database access by State Department employees came to light, I decided to make it my gift to you.
I'm sure this is all Hillary's fault, somehow. Discuss in the TalkBack below. Play nice.