DEA paid out $854,460 for free Amtrak passenger data

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Image of Amtrak train courtesy of WikipediaSince 1995, a former Amtrak employee has been selling passenger data to the US Drug Enforcement Administration - information that cost the DEA $854,460, but which it could have gotten for free.

Amtrak is the US's railroad service, a company that receives public funding but which is operated and managed as a for-profit corporation.

The passenger data should have been freely available through a joint drug enforcement task force between the DEA and Amtrak's Police Department (APD).

It all came to light in an Amtrak inspector general report picked up on by Senator Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Monday, Grassley released a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart in which he called the $854,460 an unnecessary expense and asked for more details.

The inspector general report described the Amtrak employee who sold the data as a "secretary to a train and engine crew" who was acting without Amtrak's approval.

As the Associated Press reports, travel companies like Amtrak collect data from passengers that includes credit card numbers, travel itineraries, emergency contact details, passport numbers, and dates of birth.

Grassley said that beyond the wasted money, the incident ...

... raises some serious questions about the DEA’s practices and damages its credibility to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies.

The inspector general report said that the secretary's actions prevented Amtrak's police from working jointly with DEA in narcotics trafficking on Amtrak property, thus depriving the Amtrak police from receiving $854,460 in asset forfeiture funds.

The employee was removed from service and company charges were filed, the report said, though it also said that the secretary "chose to retire."

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6 Responses to DEA paid out $854,460 for free Amtrak passenger data

  1. maggotification · 385 days ago

    "secretary to a train and engine crew who was acting without Amtrak's approval."

    So she was illegally selling this data to the DEA? Surely anyone involved with this operation should be charged and treated the same as any hacker that stole your information?

    • ejhonda · 385 days ago

      What, retirement isn't punishment enough? ;)

      That's OK. The real outrage should kick in when it comes out they'll keep their pension benefits through all this.

  2. Deramin · 385 days ago

    And that's what happens when you give any department with all the ethics of a vigilante mob an overinflated budget to deal with the bogymen of failed prohibition policy.

  3. Steve · 385 days ago

    The notion of Amtrak being "operated and managed as a for-profit corporation" would be laughable if not for the fact that it is being sustained by persistent gnawing on our paychecks. Despite the terminology, it is still, in essence, just another corrupt government entity.

  4. Robert V Jacobson · 385 days ago

    I think this is great. Amtrak which by providing low pollution mass transit performs a real service to citizens, the economy and the planet has managed to get almost a million dollars to fund it service from an overfunded useless (and dangerous) part of the government. More power to them, I say.

  5. Kate · 384 days ago

    So Uncle Sam is tracking the moves of every innocent passenger and everybody is okay with it ?

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.