Go to your clearance interview naked

Kids wanting to clear things up used to buy Clearasil. Now they need Clearable. As in Clearable.us. It’s an app aimed at students who want to remove junk from social media that could someday harm their chances of getting a job other than, maybe, wiping off contractors’ BMWs coming out of the car wash.

The company says its technique was “inspired by the US Gov’t’s Top Secret Security Process which asks applicants a set of questions...

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Kids wanting to clear things up used to buy Clearasil. Now they need Clearable. As in Clearable.us. It’s an app aimed at students who want to remove junk from social media that could someday harm their chances of getting a job other than, maybe, wiping off contractors’ BMWs coming out of the car wash.

The company says its technique was “inspired by the US Gov’t’s Top Secret Security Process which asks applicants a set of questions around drug use, alcohol, money and relationships.” It’s true that kids put up more than they should on Facebook or whatever else they use now. So do a lot of adults. Material that might be in reality harmless can look terrible later on.

Now just about everybody needs to clean up their social media act. As first reported by Jack Moore in NextGov, the Office of Personnel Management is teaming up with the Office of Director of National Intelligence. That alone will set the tinfoil hats to vibration. According to a request for information, they’re looking for tools to crawl the internet without human intervention, looking for dirt on people applying for security clearance.

Two important details.

One, this tool will have a “robust identity matching algorithm” to avoid mis-identification. Think of all the Jim Smiths out there applying for clearance. People with common names report regularly having to deal identity proof challenges. “Jim Smith” the upstanding citizen could get mixed up with “Jim Smith” the drunken felon. Aside: Many years ago I knew an actual Mary Roe. She wasn’t married to John Doe, but she was an able reporter working for a competing newspaper.

Second, OPM wants this tool to go into the deep web. The RFI asks would-be bidders if they can search “parts of the World Wide Web whose contents are not indexed by standard search engines.” OPM doesn’t want to merely Google people, it wants to look where the virtual sun don’t shine.

As Silicon Valley entrepreneur Scott McNealy famously said, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

If this search tool OPM wants eventually takes off, you might as well go to a clearance hearing naked. You won’t have much else to hide anyhow.

OPM is doing everything lee-gally. It stresses the publicly available quality of all the electronic information about people it seeks to ferret out, although matter in the dark web is not exactly widely accessible unless you have some technical chops. But it still gives pause. If someone is a convicted violent or larcenous felon, or a member in a fringe group like the Nazi party, that’s sure to justifiably deny him or her clearance. But what if a person just has a few past peccadilloes or odd tastes in entertainment or hobbies? That makes the judgment fuzzier and more potentially arbitrary and capricious. My wife thinks I’m crazy because I watch online videos of vintage aircraft engines spinning away on truck flatbeds.

It reminds me of the joke about the person buying a chicken from the butcher who sniffs under its wings and legs, and inside it’s body cavity at both ends, then declares to the butcher, “This chicken don’t smell fresh.” The butcher replies, “Could you pass a test like that?”

More commentary from Tom Temin