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If you ever want access to government secrets, maybe think twice before you tweet.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed a directive on Thursday allowing the inspection of social media profiles when reviewing applicants for federal background checks. While looking at someone's Instagram, Facebook or other profiles won’t be required, it will now be a tool available when reviewing individuals for security clearances.
Federal background checks currently fill out the 127-page Standard Form 86, which asks for personal information including contact with foreigners, and mental health and financial history.
“The goal of our background investigations must be to find out if an individual is trustworthy. Back in the 1950s that meant talking to neighbors and family,” said Rep. Mark Meadows at a hearing for the House subcommittee on government operations on Friday.
“Today, with more than a billion individuals on Facebook, what a person says and does on social media can often give a better insight on who they really are," he said.
The government began a review of its background check policies after contractor Aaron Alexis, who had security credentials, opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013, killing 12 people. Under the new policy, only information made public on social media will be available for review, and applicants won’t be asked to give access to private accounts unless there's a national security or criminal issue.
“Social media has become an integral — and very public — part of the fabric of most American’s lives,” Bill Evanina, director of ODNI’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a statement. “We cannot afford to ignore this important open source in our effort to safeguard our secrets — and our nation’s security.”
Critics of the idea had raised concerns about the government gathering social media information on people who aren’t applying for a security clearance, but are connected to someone who is. And officials have said that the quality of information derived from scouring social media posts isn’t worth the time it takes to collect it.
The Office of Personnel Management, which carries out much of the government’s screening for security clearances, was the victim of a massive breach announced in 2015 that is thought to have been the work of hackers in China.