The amount of time the background investigation process goes back varies based on the question. But when it comes to online postings, the concern may be that what happens on the Internet lives forever – and if it will come up in a background investigation.

But this ClearanceJobsBlog subscriber was more concerned about what happens on the screens in their life and background investigators looking into them:

“I have questions regarding the investigation part. I recently accepted a Background Investigator position and was told I would need a security clearance. I think it’s Tier 5 but I’m not sure. For this level, how far back will they investigate? And what avenues do they use to do their investigation? Do they have access to looking into things like text messages, emails, internet history or like access to my iCloud? or laptop or phone hard drive? Social media? I also recently passed a level 2 background check, is it similar? do they have access to medical information or history?”

While a level 2 background investigation through the FBI requires fingerprinting and criminal background check, a tier 5 background investigation process and filling out your SF-86 is going to be much more in depth.


Security clearance background investigators do not check your browsing history, read your emails, surveil your every move, bug your telephones, or photograph you commuting to work. That’s just not feasible, or allowable.

Since your browsing history (and hard drives) would not be able to be viewed by a background investigator without a subpoena, a warrant would be required to actively search your activities online or on specific devices. Secondly, there are no questions on the SF-86 pertaining to doing things online (like watching porn at home on your personal computer), and the subject would only come up from references being interviewed.

Now, if the communications you’re worried about background investigators finding include illegal activities like making threats, then they could potentially come up – but it would have to arise through the reference process.

What you post on public social media sites can come back to haunt you; however, things like your browsing history are not a part of the background investigation process.


But be aware that what happens on a public social media site like Facebook doesn’t necessarily stay there, and what happens in cyber land often has impact “IRL.” While security clearance holders have known for a long time that they must be cautious online, more online scrutiny could be on its way even though there is not necessarily a mechanism for it within the security clearance process…yet.

The Director of National Intelligence issued SEAD 5 in May 2016, which paved the way for the government to consider social media postings as a part of the background investigation process. Currently, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has emphasized that verifying that social media information is correct, and sifting through the needles in the haystacks are simply too hard to accomplish at present – but that doesn’t mean that will be the case in the future.

Continuous Evaluation (CE) includes review of Publicly Available Electronic Information (PAEI) but does not include social media. That being said, under the broader vetting process under Trusted Workforce 2.0, security officials can collect publicly available social media information during background investigations in accordance with SEAD 5.

Social media or public postings should be considered just that – public postings that may come up in the background investigation and employment review process. But communication that is private – such as emails, text messages, or other messages – are not at all within the purview of the background investigation process, and not necessary to review, either.

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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 8+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸