The only real question is why it took them so long. Last week the federal government revealed it will begin regularly screening social media profiles as part of its process for issuing security clearances to individuals.
The new rules governing social media screening were issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which has broad oversight over security clearances across the federal government, following a directive from congress issued as part of a broader spending bill last year. Altogether there are 22 different federal agencies which issue security clearances and checks, including some which handle clearances for other agencies.
Like other forms of security review, social media screening will seek to uncover any evidence that an applicant could represent a security risk, including finances, educational background, foreign travel and acquaintances, health information and ideological leanings. In the case of social media that could extend to online friends and interest groups, statements made on social media profiles and past employment information.
Typically, screening not only looks for signs of existing criminal involvement, but anything that could leave the subject open to blackmail as well.
ODNA will not ask screening subjects to provide their password or pseudonyms used on social media, meaning the screening will be limited to their publicly accessible social media presence. However, that also means that investigators will probably scrutinize subjects’ friends, family members and other social media acquaintances from their publicly accessible profiles.
Security clearances are just one area where the federal government is under pressure to bolster security through social media screening. Over the winter Congress passed a law ordering the executive branch to present a counter-terror strategy coordinating the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and FBI, among other agencies, including combating radicalization and recruitment of terrorists via social media. Lawmakers also urged the White House to implement screening of social media profiles as a regular part of vetting visa applicants.