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Security clearance bill would add random searches of feds

In the last year, there were two damaging incidents involving federal workers and security breaches. The leaks from Edward Snowden, who was a contractor with the NSA, continue to have repercussions for the U.S. government across the world. The second breach involved the Washington Navy Yard shootings by a contractor who had access to the facility.

A group of Senate lawmakers introduced a bill that would require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) create an enhanced system to review security clearances. It would perform an automated review of public records at random intervals during a five-year period for those who hold federal security clearances. The search could lead to a disciplinary hearing if questionable information was discovered.

OPM would use automated searches of "government records, major consumer reporting agencies, publicly available and commercial data sources, and social media." For federal employees, the danger here is that the automated searches would lack the precision necessary to distinguish between similar names that may exist within these databases.

More troubling for federal workers is the potential of becoming involved in a disciplinary hearing or other potentially damaging job action based on incorrect information. According to one news story, the information included in the databases would encompass such widely varying sources as bankruptcy and lien filings, news stories and social media.

And even more worrisome would be searches looking for "derogatory information" in news stories and postings on social media that "may suggest ill intent, vulnerability to blackmail, compulsive behavior, allegiance to another country or change in ideology."

These types of characterizations seem extremely subjective and it is unlikely any search macro will possess the sophistication necessary to distinguish or identify employees accurately. We worry that federal employees could become entangled in unnecessary hearings involving incorrect information that would jeopardize their security clearance and their job.

Source: Information Week, "Senate Bill Proposes Random Audits Of Security Clearances," Patience Wait, November 1, 2013

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