Should social media affect your security clearance?

As the Office of the Director of National Intelligence prepares to release its first continuous evaluation capabilities for background checks, officials are trying to understand how social media should fit into such efforts.

The intelligence community is weighing how, or even whether, to use information posted on social media sites as part of its plans for continuous evaluation of individuals holding high-level security clearances.

The interagency review issued after the Washington Navy Yard shooting called for ODNI to have continuous evaluation in place for employees and contractors with the highest Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances by September 2014 and for all TS/SCI personnel by 2016.

However, reports in September said ODNI was falling behind on plans to put continuous evaluation in place. An update from the Office of Management and Budget pushed the September goal back to December 2014 to "accommodate...IT development" and cautioned that hitting even the delayed goal was at risk.

In an interview with FCW, National Counterintelligence Executive Bill Evanina said ODNI is set to launch some of the first continuous evaluation capabilities for agencies in early 2015 and will offer them to all federal agencies by the end of 2016.

The governmentwide continuous evaluation system will check the names of people with security clearances against publicly available data such as police, court and credit records. That data, typically used in the standard security review cycles of five years or more, can flag issues for background investigators.

When linked to continuous evaluation systems, Evanina said, those databases can more immediately provide pertinent information to investigators. Instead of waiting years for the next clearance review to roll around, the information would be available almost immediately and agencies could prioritize investigative resources, he added.

Although social media is pervasive in everyday life, Evanina said it isn't currently used in federal security-clearance checks. But he added that social media and other publicly available data on the Internet could offer a way to accelerate checks and make them more effective.He confirmed that several trials are underway with federal agency volunteers to monitor employees' publicly viewable social media activities. "We're doing robust, comprehensive trials to evaluate source media for continuous evaluation," he said.

ODNI can access only public posts. "If you have a password" protecting the data, Evanina said, "we can't get in."

He added that the approach is similar to current security-clearance searches of public criminal and financial databases but faster.

Evanina and others familiar with the trials said part of the evaluation of social media is deciding whether the information gleaned from public-facing sites is worth the time it takes to gather it.

At a recent conference on social media use in the government, a federal official said information gleaned from social media sources has led to new avenues for background-check investigations that might have not been explored previously. In one trial, the findings sparked a deeper investigation for 28 percent of the participants.

So far, however, it's been a wash, the official said, with no revelatory "wow" moments sparked by social media postings.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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