Social media as a part of the security clearance background investigation process is something that has been talked about for years, and codified in policy since 2016. But while policy directives have outlined what the government can do, there has always been a lot of ambiguity about what is actually done. The reality is, social media monitoring varies by government agency. While the vast majority of government agencies currently say they are not doing any form of standard social media monitoring for applicants or individuals submitting an SF-86, there are exceptions to every rule.


Security clearance attorney Sean Bigley has seen social media come up in security clearance denials and revocations, but those were generally cases where information that was shared privately on social media was uncovered or shared with a broader audience – which then got the security clearance holder or applicant in trouble due to the nature of those messages. But there was one case where Bigley’s firm saw some details on how social media monitoring was taking place for at least one government agency.

“There is one time, one case, where we found it as a part of the adjudicative process where security officials on their own motion issued a denial of a clearance on the basis of social media monitoring,” said Bigley. At the time, the list of ‘social media’ sites provided by that agency as a part of their monitoring process was – comprehensive.

  • Social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn)
  • Microblogging websites (Twitter)
  • Blogging and Forums (WordPress, Tumbler)
  • Picture and Video Sharing (Flickr and YouTube)
  • Music Sharing (Spotify)
  • Online Commerce Websites (eBay)
  • Dating websites (
  • Geosocial network websites (TripAdvisor)
  • News and media websites where people can comment

Bigley notes most applicants would be surprised by the wide scope of information considered. But the reality is the policy opens the door to that wide swath approach. Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 5 notes websites, web applications, and web based tools that allow for user-generated content are all fodder for social media monitoring. That leaves the average individual to conclude that just about anything you write or post on the internet could be fodder for the government to consider in a background investigation.

What Can’t the Government Do?

There are limits in the policy, however. The government can’t request your passwords or force you to log into your account. “The takeaway that I have from a legal perspective for that is to make yourself private,” advises Bigley. “That’s not to say everyone who makes their account private is trying to hide something, but if you don’t want the government prying on certain aspects of your private life I think that is understandable for most of us,” said Bigley.



This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer