At least six staff members at the Los Angeles County Coroner's Department improperly viewed Michael Jackson's death certificate hundreds of times in the two weeks immediately following the pop star's death on June 25, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
Investigations by the coroner's office have also uncovered vulnerabilities in two computer systems in which Jackson's death investigation reports are stored, the Times said quoting Craig Harvey, the city's chief coroner investigator. The unspecified vulnerabilities could have allowed employees to gain unauthorized access to the investigation reports even though the reports were "locked," the Times story said. It was not immediately clear, however, whether the reports had been accessed without authorization.
The illegal access of Jackson's death certificate from the Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS) appears to have occurred despite a warning by officials that such access was improper. In some cases, employees printed the death certificate before it had become a public record, the Times said. Though the records can be accessed by anyone with a state-issued password, including employees at funeral homes, hospitals and registrar's offices, employees at the coroner's office are only supposed to look at it in fulfilling their official duties, according to the story. The illegal access came to light when officials were following up on a tip, which turned out to be false, that a funeral home employee created a fake death certificate for Jackson on the EDRS, the Times said.
Meanwhile, the death investigation reports were locked and should have been accessible only to those with a rank of captain or higher. Because of the high-profile nature of the investigation, access to Jackson's death investigation reports had been restricted to a few administrators with the hard copy stored under lock and key. No report has been made to law enforcement because no laws were broken, only internal rules, according to Harvey as quoted by the Times.
The incident is similar to numerous others involving illegal access to confidential records by employees. Less than three weeks ago, a former employee at the U.S. Department of State was sentenced to one year probation for improperly accessing passport records belonging to more than 50 high-profile individuals. Gerald Lueders was the third State Department employee to be sentenced in the case, which involved the breach of passport records belonging to then-Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and others.
In another incident earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente hospital in Los Angeles said it had fired 15 employees for snooping on the personal medical records of Nadya Suleman, the woman who gave birth to octuplets in January.
In April 2008, the medical center at the University of California, Los Angeles, disclosed that more than 160 doctors and other employees had accessed the medical records of celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Farah Fawcett and Britney Spears.