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How can social media presence threaten your security clearance?

On Behalf of | Jan 11, 2023 | Federal Employment Law

According to the people at ClearanceJobs, roughly 4.2 million federal employees have some level of access to classified information. Presumably, this is because they need the access to do their jobs, and to get that access, they need some form of security clearance.

This means that millions of federal employees need to be wary of any possible threats to their security privileges. In our digital age, there is possibly no greater security risk than internet usage. So, how exactly can federal employees put their clearances at risk online? How can they protect themselves?

If it’s online, it’s fair game

The Government Executive recently looked at the government’s monitoring of social media. As it noted, all employees with security clearances are now subject to continuous vetting. In other words, your security clearance is always an open question, even after you receive it. Likewise, your social media presence is always fair game for review.

For now, the report noted that the government has not yet denied many security clearances based on social media monitoring. Also, the current model generally requires people to flag their concerns before officials will consider them. It’s possible that agencies may someday use AI to scour social media for troublesome posts. But, right now, the current model mostly relies on human actors.

Here, the question becomes: What does the government consider social media? What materials can it review?

The answer reaches beyond what most would consider “traditional” social media. It includes pretty much any personal activity online:

  • Social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter
  • Blogs and forum posts
  • Videos and image sites like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Flickr
  • Shopping sites and reviews on sites like eBay and Amazon
  • Dating sites

The list goes on to include nearly any place you can share your comments, content or opinions.

Don’t share anything you don’t want your boss to see

Given the wide range of materials the government could consider during a security clearance review, the Government Executive article advises you to keep your accounts private and avoid posting publicly. However, as many people know, even that isn’t always enough.

If you share the materials of your private accounts with a limited group of friends, one of them could republish or share your posts. Once the materials get out into the public, there’s not really much you can do to pull them back. The words you post online will basically live there forever.

Now that the government has moved toward continuous vetting, you might serve yourself best by choosing not to post anything you don’t want your boss to see.

Skeletons in the closet?

Every so often, the news offers us the story of how someone famous said or did something offensive in the past. The person in question may be a politician or a move star, but these stories often force the person to take the defensive.

Frequently, the story will lead to a measure of public outrage. Often, it will lead to an apology. Sometimes,  the person will successfully regain the public trust. Sometimes, the story will send that person’s career into a flaming death spiral.

Protecting your security clearance and your career

It’s not always enough to post wisely now and in the future. The internet may serve as an archive of your past posts and comments. If any of them surface and threaten your security clearance, they can be a real problem. However, you want to make sure your agency considers your whole person.

You are not your social media posts, and you are certainly not your posts from years back. An attorney who understands federal security clearances can help make sure your agency sees the whole truth.


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