A mundane trip manifest of reporters who traveled to Latin America with President Bush has turned colossally controversial because the White House mistakenly included personal ID info on the E-mail sent to news bureaus and accountants. The key ingredients of identity theftSocial Security and passport numbers and dates of birthwere included in the E-mail that the White House Travel Office sent out in what's typically the first stage of billing. "A lot of us went crazy," says one reporter, "because it's an identify theft waiting to happen." Among those on the trip were CBS's Bill Plante, Fox's Bret Baier, CNN's Ed Henry, and NBC's Kelly O'Donnell.
The manifest usually includes just the names of those on the trip and what they owe. But this E-mail, sent to media billing offices and bureau officials March 21, included a spreadsheet that on the far-right-hand side included the personal identity numbers. Why's it a problem? "I don't know everyone on that list. It could have been taken by somebody shady," frets one TV reporter. "It was an honest mistake," says C-SPAN's Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents' Association. He said that a day after the E-mail went out, the travel office apologized and tried to retrieve the E-mails. In a March 22 note, the deputy travel office director said the office "goes to great lengths to protect the personal information of the White House press corps, and immediately following the discovery of the mistake, steps were taken to recall the manifest. The White House Travel Office sincerely regrets the concern this has caused. Already, procedures are in place to provide continued and additional security for the White House press corps personal information."
The event prompted the White House to speed up plans to institute a new check-in and billing system. Some news organizations aren't taking chances. They are warning correspondents to check their charge accounts, and at least one is probing who will be liable if staff identities are stolen.