What happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook. That’s the cautionary tale of digital age. From election interference on social media, to foreign spies recruiting over LinkedIn, what happens on the screen often has impact “IRL.”

While security clearance holders have known for a long time that they must be vigilant about their online behavior, more online scrutiny may be on its way – and it could impact your clearance and your career.

Former background investigator, security specialist, and ClearanceJobs Blog moderator Marko Hakamaa shared news earlier this spring about a pilot program to monitor online behavior of current security clearance holders.

Hakamaa wrote:

“The Department of Defense (DoD) is rolling out a new pilot program that will monitor current DoD security clearance holder online activity and pair that data up with other known data points in order to develop algorithms that determine normal patterns of user behavior. This consolidated data will then enable the program to detect anomalies or unusual behavior and flag certain information for follow-up. This effort is another part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) requirements for the Trusted Workforce 2.0. project.”

Of course this raises a lot of questions. What does “online activity” encompass? Is that only on government or contractor devices? Isn’t the government already doing this to some degree as part of Continuous Evaluation (CE)? And how does this impact privacy and First Amendment issues?

How Does This pilot program Work?

Hakamaa goes on to offer an explanation of what this voluntary pilot program looks like:

“John Smith holds a Secret clearance with the Army and is enrolled in this pilot program. The information from SF-86 application he submitted for his clearance is uploaded into the algorithm. Other parts of current Continuous Evaluation monitoring efforts are added in (e.g., arrest, court, and financial records, counterintelligence data, travel records). Then, John’s online activity is monitored for a period of time to establish a normal baseline. Once all of this data is collected and the algorithm is updated, the program can now monitor him and predict potential changes in stress that may be related to life events, potential insider threat intentions, or other behaviors of concern.”

The goal, of course, is to detect threats. In hindsight, insiders who eventually betray trust often have a trail of breadcrumbs leading to their crimes. Would Aldrich Ames have been caught earlier if someone saw him complaining about his ex-wife on Facebook? Or posting pictures of his new McMansion that he bought in cash?

Did Manning or Snowden make statements on social media that could have tipped someone off to their growing ideological discontentment? Being able to nip these issues in the bud could not only improve national security, but help employers take better care of their employees. As Hakamaa explains:

“This, in turn, will help managers detect changes in mood, outlook, or behavior and engage in conversation with the employee before punishment becomes necessary, and before the employee starts to hate where they work or what they’re doing. The results of the pilot are scheduled for release in the fall and I am sure it will generate lots of interest from both government agencies and private companies.”

Doesn’t Government Already Monitor Clearance Holders’ Online Activity?

Like so much else in the security clearance universe, the answer to this isn’t clear – and varies depending upon whom you ask.  For the last two or three years, we’ve been told that background investigations and Continuous Evaluation do incorporate information from online sources. Last fall, officials from the Defense Vetting Directorate (DVD) said that CE uses multiple data streams to monitor clearance holders, with plans to add social media to those streams.

Earlier this year, Bill Evanina, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) lamented that the government isn’t going far enough in its current efforts to monitor online behavior. “I’m a big advocate for use of social media,” said Evanina. “but as government, we just haven’t figured out yet how to do that to scale.”

When it comes to social media monitoring, the best assumption is that it will be happening – even if it currently isn’t.

 

Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a  lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains ClearanceJobsBlog.com – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed  on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum

If you have a tough security clearance question, you can post your questions or concerns on ClearanceJobsBlog.com.

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Caroline D'Agati is an Editor for ClearanceJobs based in Washington, D.C. Her background is in public policy, non-profit fundraising, and - oddly enough - park rangering. Though she once dreamed of serving America secretly in the CIA, she's grateful she's gotten to serve America publicly - both through the National Park Service and right here at ClearanceJobs. If you have tips or are interested in contributing to our site, you can email her at caroline.d'agati@clearancejobs.com