State Department computer crash slows visa, passport applications worldwide

The problems followed routine maintenance work so hacking is not suspected

The U.S. State Department's main computer system for processing passport and visa applications crashed earlier this week leading to global delays for travel documents.

The problems first surfaced after "routine maintenance" on the consular database, said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, during a televised briefing Thursday. Harf said the system has been brought back online, but it's still not back to full capacity.

"We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational soon," she said.

Because the problems occurred after maintenance work, Harf said the U.S. government doesn't believe the problems are the result of any malicious action, although she acknowledged the department hasn't identified the root cause of the problem.

"This is worldwide, it's not specific to any particular country," she said.

The State Department describes the consular database as "one of the largest Oracle-based data warehouses in the world."

"As of December 2009, it contains over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35,000 visa cases every day," according to a document describing the database.

The database provides almost real-time access to all consular activity worldwide and related activity in the U.S.

"There is a backlog, we are working through it so we ask people to be patient," Harf said.

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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