Problems hit US computer system for visas and passports

An outage on the same database last year affected almost 200,000 people

An unidentified glitch has hit the computer system used for issuing visas and passports at U.S. embassies worldwide, the State Department said Friday.

The same system, the Consular Consolidated Database, was hit by a weeklong outage in July last year, but the current problems are not the same, said Julia Straker, a State Department spokeswoman. At that time, a glitchy software update crashed the Oracle database system and caused a backlog of at least 200,000 applications.

The State Department didn't identify the root cause of the current problem or when it might be resolved, other than saying it hopes it will be fixed "soon." But the agency said there was no evidence the problem is related to cyber security.

The problem has hit visa issuance, consular reports of births abroad and the ability for U.S. citizens to obtain passports overseas, but the State Department said it is processing urgent requests.

"We are seeking to assist non-immigrant visa applicants with urgent humanitarian travel," Straker said. "We are aware of pending overseas adoption cases, including in China. We are prioritizing these cases and seek to issue these visas with few delays."

The issuance of passports in the U.S. has not been affected.

At the time of last year's crash, the State Department said it planned to upgrade to a new version of Oracle's database by the end of 2014 and build two fully redundant systems. The status of those redundant systems is not clear.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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