It may not be a particularly fun thing to think about, but the sobering truth is that your security clearance makes you a target for terrorists, spies, and others who may wish to do America harm. The classified information you have in your head is valuable to anyone with the resources and the desire to exploit it. And, while most people would never consider – for example – leaving valuable property unattended in a dangerous neighborhood, few clearance holders seem to consider the danger in leaving their personal information unattended online.
The reality is that many federal agencies and contractors proudly publish their organizational structure, including the names of key leadership personnel, online. When paired with any number of publicly available so-called “People Search” websites, anyone looking to build, say, a dirty bomb, need only locate the home address of those with the knowledge to do so and execute a kidnapping. If you think I’m being melodramatic, consider this: in just five minutes on Google I was staring at the street view of the home of one of our nation’s leading nuclear scientists.
I’m all for internet freedom, but the proliferation of “People Search” (AKA stalker) websites and the corresponding gross erosion of privacy online is a legitimate national security threat that should concern all of us working in this field. I’ve written about the matter previously and even pursued the introduction of a bill in Congress that would create a national opt-out list for People Search websites similar to the National Do Not Call List. Unfortunately, the efforts have gained little traction, and I fear that they won’t – until it is too late.
In the meantime, security clearance holders can and should consider taking action to protect their personal safety. One of the quickest and easiest solutions is to request that your employer remove your identity from all aspects of their online presence. While your vanity may suffer, removing your name, photo, and description as a “Senior Weapons of Mass Destruction Expert” (or the like) is probably a smart move.
Secondly, I suggest doing the same with your own online presence. Take a hard look at your social media profiles and ask yourself whether doing things like listing your security clearance on LinkedIn is really a good idea.
And finally, try Googling your name and see what comes up. As I discussed in my prior article, removing your name and address from the countless “People Search” websites may feel like whack-a-mole, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Take back your personal privacy and security with one “delete” at a time. You’ll never know what doing so might have prevented, but why risk finding out?
This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.