There is a large number of departments and agencies in the United States federal government that require security clearances for employees that have access to sensitive data. There are currently over 4 million United States citizens that have federal security clearances. These security clearances allow people to access classified federal government records and information at various levels of secrecy.
Until now, the review and monitoring of social media activity was not part of the background check process for people who apply for security clearances. However, federal background checks will now include social media monitoring as part of the security clearance process for federal workers and contractors.
Last Friday, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, approved a policy change that allows social media activity and data to be included in the background check reports for any person who is being investigated for a federal security clearance.
However, the new policy does not allow the government to access private social media communications by asking for or demanding the logon IDs and passwords for a person’s social media accounts.
In addition, any other people whose names are found in the social media profiles that are being reviewed will not be investigated, unless there is a valid national security or other criminal reason for doing so.
Many people and organizations understand that social media profiles are a useful information research tool for determining a person’s background and personality traits. It is well known that the private sector has been using social media monitoring as one of their background check tools to screen current and prospective employees.
According to some politicians and national security professionals, this policy change in federal background checks and security clearance screening is long overdue and is yet another example of federal government polices lagging way behind changes in technology. Proponents of the policy changes said that we can no longer overlook the importance of social media posts in federal background check procedures. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Committee, said that he is pleased to see these background check policy changes that address this glaring weakness in the federal security clearance process.
According to supporters of the new policy change, it is important to balance the privacy rights of federal workers who apply for security clearances with the government’s national security interests when using social media information in the background check and security screening process. Supporters also said that it was important that the federal government not retain and investigate the social media information of any other people that is collected during the background checks of security clearance applicants, unless there is a valid reason for doing so.
There are 22 departments in the U.S. government that handle background check investigations for the entire federal government. According to the new policy, each of these 22 departments will have discretion over whether or not to include social media information in their background check reports.
There isn’t a specific date set for when social media data will be included in federal employee background checks. However, the Office of Personnel Management has already started a test program to see how reliable social media information is as part of employee background check reports.