Federal Government Leads Way in Social Media Background Screening

feature img federal government leads social media background screening

A recent article in FCW Magazine summarizes the pros and cons of including social media background checks in continuous evaluation capabilities for security clearances.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will release capabilities for continuous evaluation of those holding security clearances in early 2015.

According to the article, “the intelligence community is weighing how, or even whether, to use information posted on social media sites as part of its plans for continuous evaluation of individuals holding high-level security clearances.”  To determine whether to include social media, the US Government has been running trials on the use of social media for continuous background checks.

The debate on whether to include social media background checks seems to center around the cost benefit tradeoff.   National Counterintelligence Executive Bill Evanina said, “part of the evaluation of social media is deciding whether the information gleaned from public-facing sites is worth the time it takes to gather it.”

While it makes infinite sense to evaluate individuals holding security clearances more frequently than once every 5 or 10 years, ignoring cyber vetting or the information provided by social media, public web sites and the deep web does not.

According to the latest statistics from Pew Internet Research, 91% of Americans use social media.   Increasingly, social media is driven by mobile devices which capture video, photographs, geolocations, and text as events occur in people’s lives.   Once captured, this information is posted on social media sites.   In addition, social media and the public internet is increasingly archived – locked in time.

Evanina said about social media use in continuous monitoring, “the approach is similar to current security-clearance searches of public criminal and financial databases but faster.”  Isn’t real-time information highly valuable for security clearances where our nation’s secrets and security is at stake?

The amount of time required to gather social media information drives the cost side of the cost benefit tradeoff.  The “time” or labor involved in gathering can be reduced through greater automation with human review.

Finally, social media information must be thought of in combination with traditional data sources.   Insight gained via real-time social media information can lead to new areas of investigation or deeper looks into existing areas providing a more thorough and timely view of an individual.

By choosing to include social media in continuous monitoring, the U.S. Federal government can not only ensure clearances are thorough and timely, but can show the way to the private sector on how to use social media for background screening.   The time is now.

Featured image taken by Mike Braun via Unsplash

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