Director of National Security James Clapper signed a directive Thursday allowing federal officials to include information posted to social media platforms when conducting background checks.
The new policy enables government investigators to collect information posted publicly online about individuals undergoing a security clearance if deemed relevant to the process.
"Social media has become an integral—and very public—part of the fabric of most American’s daily lives," National Counterintelligence Executive Bill Evanina said in a statement Friday. "We cannot afford to ignore this important open source in our effort to safeguard our secrets—and our nation’s security."
The directive explicitly limits the government’s ability to broaden its investigations into the personal lives of clearance applicants. Unless officials uncover material that raises national security concerns, personal information will remain exempt from clearance considerations.
Investigators are also barred from asking applicants for their social media passwords.
More than four million Americans currently hold federal security clearances. Federal officials were previously barred from encompassing information gathered from social media sites during the background check process.
While investigators are not required to pursue the new policy, Evanina said the development will be a critical tool in guaranteeing that those receiving access to U.S. secrets are trustworthy.
The privacy tradeoff, he said, is a "small price to pay to protect our nation’s secrets and ensure the trust the American people have placed in us."