Oracle-powered passport database is on the fritz

State Department's database for issuing passports and travel visas, built on Oracle, has been malfunctioning for nearly a week

According to the Associated Press and other news outlets, the State Department's visa and passport database, built with Oracle database technology, has been malfunctioning since July 19, leaving many travelers around the world unable to obtain travel documents. reports that the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) at the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs has been experiencing "technical problems" and "significant performance issues, including outages" since last Saturday. With the database offline, the State Department is unable to issue visas, passports, or Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, and many U.S. travelers may be unable to enter or leave the country.

Exactly how many travelers have been affected is unclear. According to Al-Jazeera, which spoke to two unnamed U.S. officials, "some 50,000 applicants" from a single country have been affected, and the backlog of cases piling up is making it even more difficult for the system to be brought back online. notes that the system contains some 100 million visa requests and adds around 35,000 new cases each day.

One possible reason for the CCD's troubles could be the sheer size and complexity of its database. Billions of rows of data are used to help the State Department produce what FCW describes as "a near real-time aggregate of the consular transaction activity collected domestically and at consular post databases worldwide."

The CCD is also cross-connected with other federal databases, which could be another explanation for its fragility. According to a privacy impact assessment document conducted on the CCD in 2010, the CCD links to federal databases like IAFIS (the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System run by the FBI), the Department of Homeland Security's IDENT (used for verifying biometrics), and several others. If links between those databases went down, it could paralyze CCD.

Oracle previously copped a black eye when another government database project it built, the Cover Oregon health care site, failed almost immediately upon launch, prompting the state to switch its residents to the system instead. It isn't clear how much involvement Oracle had in building the CCD, other than supplying software licenses, but it has worked regularly to build government information systems -- for example, the Department of Defense's Joint Protective Enterprise Network (JPEN), designed to allow information sharing on domestic security threats such as terrorist attacks.

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