Want a security clearance? Feds will now check your Facebook and Twitter first

social-media-background-investigations

(Washington Post) The government will start scanning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts of thousands of federal employees and contractors applying and re-applying for security clearances in a first-ever policy released Friday.

Federal investigators looking at applicants’ backgrounds to determine their trustworthiness will not ask for passwords or log in to private accounts, limiting their searches to public postings. And when they find information that has no relevance to whether they should have access to classified information, it will be wiped from government servers, the policy promises.

The directive from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is an official acknowledgment that social media is a tool as important to security clearances as interviews with friends and family and other checks the government has made for decades.

More and more people, whether suspected terrorists or those who have allegedly committed mass shootings, have posted their intentions on public social media sites or talked about violent views. Just this week, the Secret Service said it would investigate Donald Trump’s former butler over his racially explicit Facebook posts calling for President Obama to be killed.

“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.” . . . (read more)

DNI Clapper Signs New Policy on Social Media for Federal Background Investigations for Security Clearances (ODNI)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ODNI News Release No. 10-16 
May 13, 2016

DNI Clapper Signs New Policy on Social Media for Federal Background Investigations for Security Clearances

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper yesterday signed Security Executive Agent Directive Five, codifying federal background investigative authority to incorporate publicly-available social-media information in the security clearance process.

The new policy comes into effect after a long, deliberative process recognizing the ubiquity of social media and the importance of maintaining privacy and civil liberties.  The policy does not require security investigations consider social media information.  Instead, it permits the collection of publicly-available social-media information if an agency head determines it is an appropriate investigative tool.

“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.”

This policy places important restrictions that limit the federal government’s reach into the private lives of clearance applicants and holders. Absent a national security concern, or criminal reporting requirement, information pertaining to individuals other than the individual being investigated—even information collected inadvertently—will not be pursued.  In addition, investigators may not request—or require—individuals to provide social media passwords, log into a private account or take any action that would disclose non-publicly available social media information.

Security clearance holders undergo intense scrutiny before obtaining—and while maintaining—a clearance.  This includes reporting interactions with foreign nationals, obtaining permission to travel abroad, and undergoing extensive background investigations and re-investigations.

This is as it should be, Evanina said.  These requirements, along with considering an applicant’s public social media presence, “are a small price to pay to protect our nation’s secrets and ensure the trust the American people have placed in us.”

For more information, please see the following: SEAD 5, Director Evanina’s Op-Ed, and his Statement for the Record for Congress.

Document:

Security Executive Agent Directive Five: Collection, Use, and Retention of Publicly Available Social Media Information in Personnel Security Background Investigations and Adjudications (pdf)

Op-Ed:

Security clearances in the age of social media

May 13, 2016

By Bill Evanina, National Counterintelligence Executive
The Hill

Of the roughly 323 million citizens of the United States, more than four million hold federal security clearances. An even smaller number of these individuals hold the highest clearances. They are simultaneously the most trusted—and some of the most scrutinized—individuals in the world. Until now, that scrutiny generally stopped where the real and virtual worlds coalesce: social media.

Yesterday, America’s top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, signed Security Executive Agent Directive Five, empowering federal background investigators to incorporate publicly-available social-media information into their routine vetting process for clearances.

It may surprise many readers to know the government only now is codifying its approach to the virtual lives of the people it entrusts with real secrets. What may be less surprising is that technology often outpaces policy, and Director Clapper’s pen marks the end of a long, deliberative process to ensure background investigators are equipped for today’s realities while maintaining our timeless freedoms, civil liberties and privacy rights. The Directive permits collection of publicly-available social-media information of the individual under investigation. Absent a national security concern, or criminal reporting requirement, information pertaining to individuals other than the individual being investigated—even information collected inadvertently—will not be pursued. In addition, investigators may not request—or require—individuals to provide social media passwords, log into a private account or take any action that would disclose non-publicly available social media information.

The privilege of having access to our nation’s secrets comes with serious responsibilities and accountability. Among the obligations of security clearance holders, we must report interactions with foreign nationals and members of the media, obtain permission for foreign travel, share the details of our personal finances and undergo extensive background investigations and re- investigations. Additionally, many clearance holders are subjected to polygraph exams. These are critical elements of the continuous evaluation process to which we consent. We all understand and accept that these requirements are a small price to pay to protect our nation’s secrets and ensure the trust the American people have placed in us.

Social media has become an integral—and very public—part of the fabric of many Americans’ daily lives. We cannot ignore this important open source in our effort to safeguard our secrets— and our nation’s security.

William R. Evanina is a senior FBI Agent assigned to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. As the National Counterintelligence Executive, he leads the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, whose mission is to lead and support the counterintelligence and security activities of the U.S. Government, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and U.S. private sector entities who are at risk of intelligence collection, penetration or attack by foreign and other adversaries.