Temporarily Disabling Comments For Security Reason

Posted: 11:45  pm EDT
Updated 4/29/15 6:25 pm PDT issue resolved.
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There is a WordPress flaw that can be exploited through the comments section of WordPress sites. We are temporarily disabling all comments/not approving comments until we can confirm that this issue has been resolved. Thank you for your patience –DS

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Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016

Posted: 5:04  pm EDT
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Below is from the official proposal to be published on the Federal Register tomorrow eliminating the visa page insert (VPI) service for regular fee U.S. passports:

The Department proposes eliminating the visa page insert service for regular fee passport book holders beginning January 1, 2016. The expected effective date of this rule coincides with when the Department expects to begin issuing an updated version of the Next Generation Passport book. The Department routinely updates the technology used to produce U.S. passport books so that U.S. passport books use the most current anti-fraud and anti-counterfeit measures. The Next Generation Passport, which is the next update of the U.S. passport book, will contain a polycarbonate data-page and will be personalized with laser engraving. This passport will also employ conical laser perforation of the passport number through the data and visa pages; display a general artwork upgrade and new security features including watermark, security artwork, optical variable security devices, tactile features, and optically variable inks. The primary reason for eliminating visa page inserts is to protect the integrity of the Next Generation Passport books.

In 2012, an interagency working group tasked with overseeing the development and deployment of Next Generation Passport books found that visa page inserts could compromise the effectiveness of security features of the new passport books that are intended to provide greater protections against fraud and misuse. To maximize the effectiveness of the Next Generation Passport that is expected to be issued to the general public in 2016, the Department considered whether visa page inserts could be phased out at the time that the Department begins to issue the new passport books.

As part of this study, the Department considered the extent of the public’s usage of visa page inserts, costs to the Department of eliminating the service, and whether any inconvenience to the public could be minimized. A study of a sample of visa page insert applications revealed that a significant majority of those applying for visa page inserts had them added to 28-page passport books, rather than to the larger 52-page books. A set of visa page inserts is 24 pages. Accordingly, a 52-page passport book is the same size as a 28-page book with a set of extra visa pages. The Department determined that the demand for additional visa pages would be substantially reduced by issuing only the larger 52-page passport books to overseas U.S. passport applicants. Accordingly, the Department has begun issuing the 52-page book to overseas applicants, who are the most likely to apply for extra visa pages, at no additional cost. This should further reduce the already limited demand for visa page inserts, thus making the rule’s impact on the public very minimal. Individuals who apply for U.S. passports within the United States will continue to have the option to request a 52-page passport at no additional charge.

Each version of the Next Generation Passport book contains two fewer pages total, but the same number of visa pages as the passport books currently in circulation. Accordingly, after the Department begins issuing the Next Generation Passport book, all domestic passport book applicants will still have the option to choose between a 26-page passport book and a larger 50-page passport book, but the larger 50-page passport books will be automatically issued to people applying overseas.

The Department believes the limited demand for visa page inserts is outweighed by the importance of ensuring that the Next Generation Passport provides the maximum protection against fraud and misuse. Furthermore, the Department must monitor unused inventories of passport products, and the elimination of visa page inserts would facilitate more secure inventory controls. Accordingly, the Department proposes eliminating visa page inserts in passport books issued to the general public beginning January 1, 2016.

image from state.gov

image from state.gov click for larger view

When news about the elimination of passport page inserts first surfaced in late March, we went looking for answers.  A State Department official responded to our inquiry as follows, with emphasis on security and other interesting details:

The Department’s highest priority is to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens and this includes our commitment to ensure the U.S. passport remains the most secure travel document in the world. As we look forward to the next version of the U.S. passport, an internal focus group determined that supplemental visa pages pose vulnerabilities to both the physical security of the passport and the issuance process. While the United States is the only country to offer the option of adding additional visa pages to passports, below is some additional data which helped us arrive at our decision:

  • The total demand for additional visa pages is quite small. In FY 2012, we saw approximately 168,000 requests for additional pages compared to 12 million passport issuances.
  • For years have we have offered two passport book sizes to the American public: 28 pages and 52 pages. In FY2013 we estimated that 97% of all passport renewals used fewer than 18 visa pages, a strong indication that the current book sizes we offer meet the needs of the majority of American travelers.
  • To meet the needs of frequent travelers, we began issuing the 52-page passport books at all overseas posts which is where most requests for additional visa pages are processed.
  • Customers can renew their passports via expedited service both domestically and overseas at U.S. consulates and embassies.

We realize some frequent travelers may have concerns about this decision, but it is our duty to implement policies that reinforce and maintain the security of the passport. The United States allows travelers to enter into the country with a valid visa in an expired passport, as long as both passports (the valid and the expired one with the visa) are from the same country and type. Many other governments have similar regulations. However, we recommend that travelers obtain the latest information on visas and entry requirements from the nearest embassy or consulate of destination country before traveling.

According to CA, after the proposed rule is announced on the Federal Register, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will conduct outreach to educate the public on the elimination of visa pages insert (VPI), the effects of this decision, and alternative consular services.

Interested parties may submit comments for 60 days starting April 29, by any of the following methods:

  • Visit the Regulations.gov web site at: http://www.regulations.gov/index.cfm and search the RIN 1400-AD76 or docket number DOS-2015-0017.
  • Mail (paper, disk, or CD-ROM): U.S. Department of State, Office of Passport Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA/PPT), Attn: CA/PPT/IA, 44132 Mercure Circle, P.O. Box 1227, Sterling, Virginia 20166-1227.

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Saudi Arabia Arrests 93 Suspected Terrorists Over Plot to Bomb US Embassy Riyadh

Posted: 3:30  pm EDT
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Bringing Cellphones to Work Ends For Federal Employees in 22 Domestic Passport Offices

Posted: 3:19  pm EDT
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WaPo reported last week that federal employees responsible for reviewing and processing U.S. passports are now prohibited from bringing their cellphones to work.  The new rule would affect the 1,200 government workers and 1,000 private contractors in passport offices across 22 domestic locations. What started this off? Who knows except that there apparently was a contractor in Houston:

“The rumor among passport workers is that a contractor in Houston was taking pictures of private information on passports.”

A State Department official confirmed the new policy to WaPo:  “The Department has a serious and important obligation to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of U.S. citizens applying for passports,” the official said. “Prohibiting cellphones throughout our Passport Agencies, where employees review and process passport applications, is an effort to further protect passport applicant’s PII.”  

The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998 that represents Passport Agency workers nationwide is not happy.  The union wondered what use is getting these employees secret clearances if they can’t be trusted with the information?

Read in full here.

Our own source at the Consular Affairs bureau declined to confirm the rumor but did confirm the ban on cell phones.

The last time the Passport Agency made a huge splash was back in 2008 when illegal access of politician and celebrity passport records were discovered.  Nine State Department employees and contractors were charged and pleaded guilty in that case.

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Howard v. Kerry: Court Denies Motion to Dismiss One Retaliation Claim

Posted: 10:52 am EDT
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Excerpt from Civil Action No. 14-727 (JDB) by Judge John D. Bates of the United States District Court of the District of Columbia:

Kerry Howard, a former Community Liaison Officer at the American consulate in Naples, did not enjoy her working environment. That is an understatement, to be fair: she refers to it as a “cesspool.” Pl.’s Opp’n [ECF No. 21] at 3. In this suit, Howard asserts that she suffered from a hostile work environment that was discriminatory to women, and from discrete instances of retaliation for her attempts to aid fellow employees. But these claims do not match precisely with those she raised during the administrative process. As a result, some must be dismissed, based on the defendant’s motion to do so.
[…]
Here, Howard filed administrative charges alleging only two discrete retaliatory acts: her poor evaluation on April 19, 2012, and being placed on a performance improvement plan that same day. See Notice of Dismissed Allegations [ECF No. 13-2] at 5. Both were dismissed administratively for failure to contact an EEO counselor within forty-five days, as required by the first step of the exhaustion process. See id. Since then, however, it has become clear to both parties that Howard did timely request an EEO counselor on May 7, 2012—regarding her performance improvement plan. See Pl.’s Supp. at 2; Def.’s Resp. at 3. This claim was therefore appropriately exhausted. The Court will accordingly deny defendant’s motion to dismiss as to the retaliation claim regarding that performance improvement plan.1
[…]
Odious the allegations may be—but Title VII “does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace.” Burlington, 548 U.S. at 68 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (citing precedent that courts “must filter out complaints attacking the ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, the Court will grant the government’s motion to dismiss the remainder of Count I.

More straightforward is the government’s assertion that Howard failed to exhaust her hostile work environment claim. In the hostile work environment context—as opposed to discrete instances of retaliation—it is settled that claims “like or reasonably related to the allegations of the administrative charge may be pursued in a Title VII civil action, notwithstanding the failure to otherwise exhaust administrative remedies.” Bell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 8 (internal quotation marks, citation, and alteration omitted); see also Morgan, 536 U.S. at 115 (“Hostile environment claims are different in kind from discrete acts.”). “A new claim is ‘like or reasonably related’ to the original claim if it ‘could have reasonably been expected to grow out of the original complaint.’” Bell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 8–9 (quoting Weber v. Battista, 494 F.3d 179, 183 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

“Claims of ideologically distinct categories of discrimination and retaliation, however, are not ‘related’ simply because they arise out of the same incident.” Id. at 9 (internal quotation marks omitted). As this Court has pointed out before, “[t]he EEOC charge form makes it easy for an employee to identify the nature of the alleged wrongdoing by simply checking the labeled boxes that are provided. When an employee is uncertain which type of discrimination has occurred, she need only describe it in the text of the charge form.” Williams v. Spencer, 883 F. Supp. 2d 165, 174 (D.D.C. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In Howard’s formal complaint, she checked the box for reprisal—not for sex discrimination. See Formal Compl. of Discrimination [ECF No. 13-1] at 2. And the explanation she attached to the form similarly focuses on reprisal alone. See id. at 3–4. Thus, “[t]o the extent that [Howard] is attempting to claim that [the hostile work environment] was discriminatory based on [sex], as opposed to retaliatory, [the government] is correct that [Howard] did not exhaust her administrative remedies.” Williams, 883 F. Supp. 2d at 174. As a result, the Court will grant the government’s motion to dismiss as to Count II (hostile work environment based on discrimination).

Read in full at https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2014cv0727-25.

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