Soon, feds will snoop on your social networks before granting security clearance

From the "they haven't already?" department.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
(Image: file photo)

The US government now thinks it's a good idea to look at your Facebook, Twitter, Google, GitHub, and Pinterest public social network records before it offers you a job.

Don't ask me why it took them so long. Back when I worked for NASA and Naval Sea Systems Command, I had security clearances. I assumed that, were I to apply for a job requiring a clearance these days, the agency responsible for personnel security investigations would be all over my social networks like white on rice. Well, you'd be wrong.

On the other hand, this is the same government where the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) managed to lose 21.5 million federal employee and security records.

The new so-called National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) won't be in business until 2018 -- if then.

In the meantime the new directive from James Clapper, US director of national intelligence, recognizes that social media records might be just as important as interviewing your friends and family for determining if you should get a clearance.

Private industry, of course, has known this for ages. By 2012, more than half of employers were checking on potential employee's public social network records.

That photo of you on Facebook from your freshman year in college with a bong in one hand and a beer in the other? Probably not a good career move. Just ask NFL draftee Laremy Tunsil how the video of him smoking a bong on Twitter worked out for him.

The government has finally decided checking on your public online persona is a good idea too. In the directive, investigators are empowered to look at your public social network records.

Investigators will not be allowed to ask for your passwords nor demand that you log into your account. In addition, they cannot look at your private or friends only messages. Nor can they create "honeypot" accounts to try to trick you into making friends with your investigators.

This is actually less invasive then private industry. Some companies have pressured would-be hires to turn over their Facebook passwords, for example, before considering hiring them.

While the focus of this new initiative is on screening potential employees, current staffers may also have their records checked when their security clearances come up for renewal.

How will this work? Good question. For now the DSS and OPM, which between them do a million checks a year, will continue to run security clearance checks. Eventually it will come under the purview of the NBIB. The exact mechanisms to do the social network checks have yet to be determined.

So, if you're considering a job that requires a security clearance -- or, for that matter, any job, you might want to clean up your public online face. Your potential employer is not going to be as understanding as your college frat brothers are about the photos of the kegger and the stripper incident.

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