OPM Wants to Track Social Accounts of Security Clearance Candidates

By Michael Klazema on 4/20/2016

The Office of Personnel Management wants to implement a "pilot program" that would track the social media accounts of anyone applying for government security clearances. According to a report from the website, the OPM is currently "conducting market research to find companies that can perform automated social media tracking." These social media findings would be used as part of the background check process to decide who is or is not approved for security clearances.

The searches wouldn't be limited to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn either, but would also look at candidates' other online activities. For instance, blogs, YouTube videos, photo sites, and online court records would all be fair game for the OPM's automated information gathering system. Even "information gleaned Amazon and eBay" could be collected as part of the process.

It's interesting that the OPM is looking to dive fully into social media background checks, considering some of the mixed reception that checks of this ilk have gotten over the years. In 2012, for instance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) convened a panel to look at the use of social media in the workplace—and specifically at the use of social media for background checks. The panel conceded that, while social media sites "can provide a valuable tool for identifying good candidates," they could also eliminate objectivity and introduce bias into the vetting process. Social profiles, the panel said, usually provide information like race, gender, age, and ethnicity that hiring managers aren't typically allowed to know. Sexual orientation, gender identification, and political affiliation are also pieces of information that people often reveal on social media.

The EEOC doesn't bar companies from using social media background checks to vet their applicants. The commission does recommend that a person not directly involved with making the final hiring decision compile the social media background check report. That way, a person within the organization can review an applicant's social profiles and compile information that could be relevant to the job at hand—while leaving the more discriminatory pieces of information out of the report.

Since the OPM is providing security clearances instead of doing traditional hiring, it's possible that the office could be beholden to EEOC regulations and recommendations a bit differently than the average business. Still, avoiding discrimination is certainly something that the OPM will have to consider here. According to the NextGov report, the OPM is looking for an automated social media monitoring system that will completely remove "human interaction" from the equation. If that's the case, then it's possible that the system could automatically filter out any information that might introduce bias into the vetting process.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how this story develops and what sort of implications it might have for the broader use of social media background checks going forward.



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