Telling All

Years ago when I worked for Boeing, I had to file paperwork for a government security clearance to work within the Peace Shield program. This involved writing down every address I’d lived in, all my previous jobs, my current friends, and family members. It also meant answering some rather invasive questions about personal drug use, membership within certain organizations, as well as recent travel activity.

I had experimented with drugs when I was in my teens and I debated whether to put this information in. Eventually, I decided it was best just to be honest and accept the consequences. Sure enough four months later the Department of Defense contacted me and told me an investigator would be flying to Seattle to discuss my application.

I was relieved to find the agent who arrived to be both pleasant and courteous, even friendly. She basically asked the same questions asked in the form and I answered truthfully. In fact, I was very comfortable in the interview, probably because I knew I was telling the truth and she wasn’t as formidable as I thought she would be. After five minutes, she said that she was satisfied with my answers and I’d get the clearance. She also told me it was the shortest and easiest interview she’d given because she could tell, immediately, that I wasn’t holding anything back. And she was right, I wasn’t.

As much as I wanted to work on Peace Shield, and I enjoyed my time on the project, I didn’t enjoy the security process. I was determined from that point on that I wouldn’t answer these types of questions unless I felt the job justified the invasive process. When I became a contractor, I made it a point never to go after contracts that would require a security investigation because I had no interest in going through this process for a job that would only last 3 to 6 months.

Last week, I interviewed for a contract lasting 3 to 6 months. I talked about it in Long Week, and though I said I wasn’t going to continue in this field, I decided to accept the job anyway. All things considered, I need a job and I decided that no matter how much I might dislike the job or the work, no matter how burnt out I am, I am also an old pro — I have enough discipline to do a job and do it well regardless of personal interest. I wouldn’t have pursued the job if it was a permanent position, but I can handle anything for 3 to 6 months.

(Besides, I thought, maybe I would find that my burn out is due to this depressingly long period of time looking for a job, and feeling less than worthwhile when never getting called. )

What I didn’t mention in the previous writing is that the job was for a department of the federal government, but none having anything to do with any enforcement branch of the government, or the department of defense, or working on anything that could remotely be considered ‘sensitive’ or having to do with the public trust. In fact, the application I would work on would become part of the organization’s public web site.

I was told last week that I would have to take a drug test and be fingerprinted for a criminal record, but that’s not unusual for jobs related to the government and I had no problems with this.

The person contracting the job phoned Tuesday to tell me he sent the offer letter through the mail, which I thought was surprising. In all previous contracts, I’m usually sent the contract via email and then I sign it and send it back. However, when I received the ‘packet’ with the letter, I knew why. In the packet were several documents requiring signatures authorizing investigations into various aspects of my life, as well as asking questions such as the following:

Since the age of 16 or in the last 7 years, whichever is shorter, have you illegally used any controlled substance?

In the last 7 years, has your use of alcoholic beverages (such as beer, wine, liquor) resulted in any alcohol-related treatment or counseling (such as for alcohol abuse or alcoholism)?

In the last 7 years, have you consulted a mental health professional or have you consulted with another health care professional provider about a mental health related condition?

I was also asked to provide the names and addresses of all my family members in addition to the names and addresses of people I consider ‘good friends’ who know me well. Any takers in the audience?

I would also have to provide complete details of all my financial information including bank and credit card information, every incidence when a payment was late for a credit card or a loan, as well as having to give the authorization to allow investigation of my credit history. This is surprising because, by law, this information can’t be used to make an employment decision. I guess the laws don’t apply to the federal government.

I would need to list every place I’ve lived for the last 7 years in one document, my entire life on another. I would also need to list details of every employer I’ve ever had. Considering I’ve moved quite a bit, and have also worked for a lot of companies as a contractor, my roommate and I estimated it would take about 3 months just to fill in the paperwork for this section.

I would have to list all the foreign countries I’ve visited, and why.

I was particularly impressed by one document I would need to sign providing my permission for the investigators to discuss me with my doctors:

Does the person under investigation have a condition or treatment that could impair his/her judgement or reliability?

If so, please describe the nature of the condition and the extent and duration of the impairment or treatment.

What is the prognosis?

I could go on, but I think the point has been made. Considering that this job is working on an application that has nothing to do with sensitive information or with the ‘public trust’, and that if a modicum of security procedures are in place I wouldn’t be able to hack into computers with sensitive information, you can imagine my chagrin when I saw the multitude of pages and pages and pages of requests for extremely sensitive and highly personal information.

What was worse was, according to one document, this information, once collected, could then be given to any other government agency requesting this information, or to a congressional office, or to Office of Management and Budget, or to a labor organization for investigation in labor disputes (the list goes on literally half a page of organizations this information could be released to).

I don’t think it’s a surprise that I declined the job.

Privacy. Thanks to the Internet as well as the ‘war on terrorism’, privacy seems to be a thing of the past. Increasingly we’re meeting demands to tell more and more about ourselves, beyond that which we’re comfortable sharing. Holding anything back is equated with being unpatriotic, or deceptive, or being less than honest. After all, what have we got to hide? Our lives are open books. Right?

Wrong.

The only details we have to provide about ourselves are those we choose to share. There is no covenant we enter into with the “public” that says we have to bare all, just because one person asks or another is interested.

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