Security Clearance Lawyer Says: No Social Media Bad Behavior

What you do and say on social media channels could adversely affect your clearance, says security clearance lawyer John Griffith.

So you spout off with colorful language on your Google+ account. You rail against the political climate on Twitter. You document your one-night stands, beer funneling prowess and cleavage shots on Facebook.

Then you grow up, finish college, set your sites on a primo government job and learn you’ll need a security clearance to perform the job tasks. No problem, you think. You’ve managed to avoid arrest, you don’t do drugs, and you’re not spending your summers in Yemen at an Al Qaeda training camp. Piece of cake, right? Not so fast.

A recent Pentagon report states the Defense Department should look at applicants’ social media accounts as part of security clearance background checks, according to a March 2014 Navy Times article.

This finding came on the heels of the Navy Yard shootings at the hands of Aaron Alexis, a tragedy we previously addressed on our blog. The argument is that security clearance applicants’ behavior on social media can shed light on whether they are suitable for security clearance, says John Griffith, a security clearance lawyer in San Diego.

“If you answer a security clearance questionnaire about drug use by saying you’ve never tried illegal drugs, but your Facebook page shows you holding a joint and blowing smoke rings, that’s not good,” Griffith says. “It calls into question not only your drug history, but your honesty as well.”

Several bills were filed in Congress earlier this year that would add social media checks to the background investigation process, according to the Washington Times.

While some may think what you do on your social media channels is your personal business, the Navy Times articles made a valid point: “…anyone who seeks to be trusted with a clearance should not object to allowing an evaluation of social media information and images that he or she may have voluntarily shared with hundreds or thousands of people worldwide,” according to the outside review requested by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Still, the notion of examining social media channels for clearance applicants has been met with resistance. The Washington Times reported in March that background check investigators cannot review applicants’ social media accounts. However, the same article stated the Barack Obama administration would “test social media as part of checks.”

Here’s something to keep in mind: while your past can come back to haunt you, this doesn’t necessarily mean it always will doom you. Let’s say you admit to that smoke-ring-blowing, joint-holding photo. Each of the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information includes mitigating circumstances, such as “passage of time without recurrence.” That means a single indiscretion, or a time in your life 15 years ago when you consistently drank too much, but you no longer exhibit that behavior today, shouldn’t prevent you from obtaining security clearance.

In a perfect world, we all would avoid questionable behavior, and certainly would avoid sharing photographic proof of said behavior. But part of growing up means making regrettable mistakes. Your best bet when applying for security clearance is to be an open book in your application. Don’t hold back any secrets, because even though you may not have your social media accounts combed through now, it could happen in the future. You don’t want to have to explain dishonesty down the road.

Feel free to contact our office for a free consultation if you’re applying for clearance. We can work with you to ensure you complete your application accurately and in its entirety.

If you hold clearance, but have received notice that the government wishes to revoke it, we also may be able to help. Call today.

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