Maybe it was just an act of "imprudent curiosity" by low-level employees, as State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dubbed it on Friday.
But others saw something more sinister in the breach of privacy that allowed at least four State Department workers to rifle the electronic passport files of all three leading presidential candidates.
David Sobel, senior counsel for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, noted that the State Department's software would probably never catch an employee who simply wanted to glance at the private files of his neighbor.
"They have put in place a mechanism for the flagging of access involving prominent people," Sobel said. "But what about everyone else?"