Are there specific situations when others — people we do not know — check out and examine our social media data?
An article in the Washington Post, U.S. to Scan Social Media Accounts Before Issuing Security Clearances, describes a directive issued by James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, about searching social media files.
According to officials responsible for formulating policy and implementing the directive, future government employment security clearance investigations will include a search of social media content. Applicants will not be asked for passwords and investigators will not log into (or break into) accounts. Investigators will seek to identity the range an individual’s public content, looking for information that might raise red flags and adversely affect a decision to give a person a security clearance.
Written by Lisa Rein, the May 17, 2016 article notes that security officials plan to erase from investigators’ files any information discovered that is unrelated to an applicant’s security. Rein also shares some of the questions that U.S. Representatives asked when Congress was briefed on the plans to incorporate social media searches into clearance investigations. Some Members of Congress are skeptical about the plan, concerned especially about privacy. Responding to a question about the data in alias social media accounts (online identities that people set up), security officials said they are thinking about ways to address the issue.
Vast amounts of our personal data, comments, and opinions live out in the digital world, and we rarely think about this information. Reports about who looks at the many things we post and who seeks out our personal digital information abound, but most people know that as many of these stories are apocryphal as they are true. Moreover, because young people are comfortable with less privacy in their 21st Century lives than their parents, sharing stories with them about disclosure of personal information and resulting harm without concrete evidence is not especially effective. This report, however, presents evidence that what we post on our social media accounts now may be accessed later if we, at any time in our lives, apply for a United States Government job that requires a security clearance.
An interesting fact in the Post article is that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducts over 1,000,000 background screenings every year for federal jobs and contractors.