ODNI issues guidance for social media background checks

Directive 5 – released last week – agencies may “collect, use and retain” an applicant’s “publicly available social media information” during the background investigation process, as long as  it relates to  determining whether or not an applicant should have access to classified information or a sensitive position. ODNI background checksBill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center at ODNI, said the policy is a collaborative effort to “strike the right balance” between obtaining publicly available information in an ever-changing internet age, without invading privacy or stepping on civil liberties. “From 2008 until two years ago, the ‘social media’ definition has changed dramatically and will continue to change,” Evanina said. “To provide the agencies who conduct these investigations the maximum flexibility to go about utilizing social media as part of this process was paramount in this effort.” ODNI’s guidance was met with varying degrees of interest and support from the oversight committee. Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), for example, called the guidance a “big step forward fixing such a glaring lapse in our security clearance process.” In the guidance:

  • Agencies can’t ask or require an applicant to “take any action that would disclose non-publicly available social media information”
  • Agencies cannot create accounts or use existing social media accounts to connect with an applicant online, or interact with a third party in order to bypass non-public information
  • Agencies must verify to the best of their ability any information collected that could disqualify a candidate
  • Applicants are not required — nor can agencies ask — to provide passwords or log into a private account
Social media background checks have been a hot topic of discussion in recent years, given that it can be incredibly difficult to avoid accessing personal information which cannot legally be used to deny employment. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provided guidance for the conversation around social media background checks in the private sector, when they allowed companies to compile seven years’ worth of publicly-available files and data from social networks and similar websites. The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees about 95 percent of federal background checks, will use this new guidance as it works to stand up by October a pilot program to conduct automated social media site searches as part of the security clearance process.]]>

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