Secrecy News

Using Social Media in Background Investigations

A directive signed by the Director of National Intelligence yesterday formally authorizes the use of social media by official investigators who are conducting background investigations for security clearances.

See Collection, Use, and Retention of Publicly Available Social Media Information in Personnel Security Background Investigations and Adjudications, Security Executive Agent Directive 5, May 12, 2016.

The directive was crafted to avoid undue infringements on privacy.

Investigators will be limited to considering only publicly available postings. The subjects of a background investigation “shall not be requested or required” to provide passwords for access to non-publicly available materials or to make such materials available. Agencies will not be allowed to “friend” an individual for the purposes of gaining access to materials that are not otherwise available.

And the consideration of social media must be relevant to the official guidelines for granting access to classified information. That is, they must pertain to substance abuse, criminal conduct, foreign allegiance, or other such criteria.  See Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information, rev. December 29, 2005.

The utility of social media for background investigations remains to be demonstrated, particularly since any public posts that do not voluntarily advertise behavior that is at odds with official guidelines would not trigger investigative attention. A pilot project will be conduct to validate the approach before it is systematically included in the investigative process.

A hearing on Incorporating Social Media into Federal Background Investigations was held today by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“The use of social media has become an integral, and very public, part of the fabric of most Americans’ daily lives, and it is critical that we use this important source of information to help protect our nation’s security,” said William R. Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, in a statement to the House Committee.