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Social Media Could Cost You Your Clearance

With the announcement Friday that investigators will now comb the Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts of security clearance applicants, social media has officially graduated from mere child’s play to a valuable character assessment tool. 

This first-of-its-kind social media policy will apply to federal employees and contractors applying for the first time, or those re-applying for a security clearance.

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said social media is just as important to determining the trustworthiness of an applicant as interviews with friends and family are.

The federal investigators will only examine public posts on social media as they won’t ask applicants for their login credentials. The policy also states that any irrelevant information will be wiped from the government servers.

The policy stems from the rising trend of suspected terrorists or alleged mass shooting culprits to post their intentions and violent observations on social media.

“Agencies make security clearance decisions using a ‘whole person approach’ to assessing who is an acceptable security risk,” Beth Cobert, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, told lawmakers Friday at a hearing on the new policy. “One component of that approach in the 21st century is social media.”

OPM conducts one million background investigations for federal agencies annually will begin analyzing social media as part of a new pilot program.

There are still several gray areas in the policy due to the delicate balance between privacy rights and national security, but Congress is considering a bill that would make social media scrutiny a part of intelligence agency employee background checks.

Private companies currently charge the government between $100 and $500 to screen one applicant’s social media postings. Tony Scott, the Obama administration’s chief information officer, told lawmakers he hopes the process will take more advantage of automation to lower the cost.

But without human discretion, an automated net may collect too much information on citizens.

“How do we flag the serious from the trivia? How do we make sure we don’t have some enormous depository of government information,” asked Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Government Operations subcommittee.

Bill Evanina, Director of National Counterintelligence and Security Center, and other officials told two panels of the House Oversight Committee they have been considering social media searches for years, and assured lawmakers the government will not keep data that isn’t relevant to a security clearance.

“Social media has become an integral—and very public—part of the fabric of most American’s daily lives,” said Bill Evanina, Director of ODNI’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center. “We cannot afford to ignore this important open source in our effort to safeguard our secrets—and our nation’s security.”

Posted in General News

Tags: OPM, security clearances, recommendations for security clearance process, social media


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