Feds May Scan Your Social Media, But Can't ‘Friend’ or ‘Follow’ You

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Spy chief James Clapper signed a policy last week that would let background check investigators dig into candidates’ public social media postings.

Background investigators may soon explore social media postings when deciding whether to grant a security clearance, but they won’t be able to use fake accounts to do so.

Last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed a new policy that would authorize government investigators to consider public postings on social media -- that is, what is visible to other unrelated Internet users -- when conducting background checks.

In the policy, social media includes "[w]ebsites, applications and Web-based tools that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content," and which allows people to "engage in dialogue, interact, and create, organize, edit, comment on, combine and share content.”

Government agencies will not be allowed to create accounts, or use existing accounts “for the purpose of connecting (e.g. 'friend,' 'follow')" a specific person, or ask an existing connection to help them access an individual's private posts, the policy says.

Investigators also won’t be allowed to ask an individual to connect with an agency-owned social media account or to log into their own account from agency systems.

The new policy defines "publicly available social media information" as postings “published or broadcast for public consumption” and available online, by request, by subscription or purchase, or “otherwise lawfully accessible to the public.”

Except in cases related to a "national security concern" or a "criminal reporting requirement," agencies will not be authorized to collect information about other people connected to the individual under investigation.

Last week, a House oversight committee hearing explored the benefits and potential privacy implications of social media tracking. 

“Today, with more than a billion individuals on Facebook, what a person says and does on social media can often give a better insight on who they really are,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said during the hearing.