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Verizon Wireless president and CEO Lowell McAdam apologized to President-elect Barack Obama on Friday for the actions of an undisclosed number of company employees who accessed and viewed Obama's personal cell phone account.
McAdam said the account had been inactive for several months and that it was a voice flip phone, rather than a smartphone with e-mail and other data.
"All employees who have accessed the account -- whether authorized or not -- have been put on immediate leave, with pay," McAdam said in a statement. "As the circumstances of each individual employee’s access to the account are determined, the company will take appropriate actions. Employees with legitimate business needs for access will be returned to their positions, while employees who have accessed the account improperly and without legitimate business justification will face appropriate disciplinary action."
Verizon declined to provide further comment or explanation.
This isn't the first time records related to Obama have been accessed without authorization. In March, State Department officials apologized after three employees of State Department contractors accessed the passport files of then presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Obama.
Data related to celebrities has lured many workers to violate laws and workplace rules. UCLA Medical Center employees, for example, were found to have viewed the medical records of actress Farah Fawcett and singer Britney Spears without authorization several years ago.
A report released earlier this year by the California Department of Public Health described an audit of one UCLA Medical Center employee's electronic activities from January 2004 through June 2006 and found "109 patients whose confidential records were breached." The report says that "more than half of the patients were noteworthy individuals, some of whom were admitted under an assumed name (AKA) to provide anonymity while receiving care within the facility's health care system."
Beyond curiosity, those breaching the privacy of the famous and not so famous may be motivated by money or politics. A report released Thursday by Ohio's Office of the Inspector General found that of 18 background checks of Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, "five were conducted in response to media requests for information and eight were conducted by various agencies without any legitimate business purpose."
The report singled out Helen Jones-Kelley, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJSF), for improperly authorizing searches of Wurzelbacher's records. Noting that previous department directors said they would never have authorized searches of "individuals who achieved 'celebrity' status," the report says, "[W]e find reasonable cause to conclude that Jones-Kelley committed a wrongful act by authorizing the searches on Wurzelbacher."
The report says that investigators received information indicating that Jones-Kelley may have used state resources for political activity. It notes that Jones-Kelley had her personal BlackBerry synchronized with the ODJFS e-mail system and that among the messages in the system "were four in which Jones-Kelley provided lists of names of potential contributors to the Obama campaign. One of those e-mails included Jones-Kelley's offer of a $2,500 contribution to the campaign."
The report offers no conclusive link between Jones-Kelley's authorization of the records searches and her possible use of state resources for political purposes. However, Gov. Ted Strickland has suspended her for a month without pay.
Jones-Kelley yesterday acknowledged that she should not have authorized the searches. "I accept the content the (of) Inspector General's report and should not have allowed the Wurzelbacher searches to move forward," Jones-Kelley told the Dayton Daily News. "While there is a disagreement as to whether those searches were done for legitimate business purposes, my only intent was to fulfill my agency's fiduciary responsibilities to Ohio's families."