Legal Insider: New Social Media Policy for Security Clearance Investigations

Berry&BerryRevised

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Plaza America that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement, and private sector employee matters.

On May 12, 2016, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued the first policy on the federal government’s use of social media when evaluating background investigations and security clearances for federal employees and contractors.

Security Executive Agent Directive 5 does not require that security clearance decisions necessarily consider social media information, but instead permits the collection of “publicly” available social media information if an agency official determines it to be a useful tool for security clearance investigations. It is extremely likely that most, if not all, agency officials will find such information to be a necessary tool for security clearance investigations in the future given how significant social media has become in our society.

While the new policy does not require the collection of non-publicly available social media information, it is possible that such information could be required in future policies governing security clearance investigations, especially for individuals with top secret clearances. For now, however, security clearance investigators can only review publicly available social media information under the new policy. Information that is protected by appropriate privacy settings will not be reviewed by security clearance investigators.

Furthermore, unless there is a national security concern or criminal reporting requirement, information uncovered as a result of a review of an applicant’s publicly available social media information that involves other individuals or groups will not be pursued.

Security clearance investigators are also restricted from requesting or requiring individuals to provide their social media passwords or requiring individuals to log on to their private social media accounts to disclose non-publicly available information. The new policy also bars security clearance investigators or agencies from creating or using social media accounts to “Friend” or “Follow” the individual who is under investigation.

We represent individuals in security clearance matters. If you need assistance with a federal retirement or an employment issue, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

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