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Feds Will Facebook Stalk You Before You Get Top Secret Clearance

Background checks will now include a look at public social media profiles.

GettyImages-85595135crop
GettyImages-85595135crop

If you’re an ambitious young national security operative -- or an old one, for that matter -- go scrub your Facebook page. For on Thursday, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, signed into force a new measure allowing the government to examine the public social media sites of individuals seeking clearances to view classified information.

That policy allows government investigators to look at what applicants have posted on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, for example, but explicitly bars them from trying to acquire non-public information. Investigators are not allowed to “friend” the individuals they investigate in order to gain increased access to a Facebook page. And the government is not allowed to force an applicant to turn over his password to grant access to a private page.

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

If you’re an ambitious young national security operative — or an old one, for that matter — go scrub your Facebook page. For on Thursday, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, signed into force a new measure allowing the government to examine the public social media sites of individuals seeking clearances to view classified information.

That policy allows government investigators to look at what applicants have posted on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, for example, but explicitly bars them from trying to acquire non-public information. Investigators are not allowed to “friend” the individuals they investigate in order to gain increased access to a Facebook page. And the government is not allowed to force an applicant to turn over his password to grant access to a private page.

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

The new policy directs agencies to collect social media information as one component in determining whether a person lives up to what the intelligence community calls the “adjudicative guidelines” in awarding a clearance. Those guidelines include, for example, allegiance to the United States, sexual behavior, drug and alcohol use, criminal conduct, and financial considerations.  

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence committee, welcomed the use of social media in background investigations but raised questions about the initiative’s privacy considerations. “The ability to review social media — so long as adequate privacy safeguards have been put in place — can add vital insights during the security review process,” he said in a statement.  

The policy, which the Hill notes comes in response to a requirement in the December budget deal, specifies that a person cannot be denied a clearance based solely on “uncorroborated or unverified” information collected from social media. That would seem to indicate that the FBI will do a bit of legwork to verify that your college Facebook posts about getting stoned were in fact true.

The policy applies to both new applications for security clearances and periodic reviews of individuals already granted one. So with that in mind, it’s probably a good idea for the denizens of the national security state to carry out a social media deep clean.

But that may not be enough to avoid scrutiny of a social media profile. The policy’s definition of what constitutes “public information” includes information available to the public by purchase. That raises the possibility that agencies carrying out background checks may buy access to historical archives of social media information, including posts and tweets that have been deleted but were stored on some data miner’s server.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump can breathe easy. His antics on Twitter, including the deleted tweet below, which might cause scrutiny about the adjudicative guidelines’ emphasis on “inappropriate behavior in the workplace,” won’t restrict his access to classified information. The policy explicitly excludes the president.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 Twitter: @EliasGroll

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