Federal Security Clearances Come with Increased Background Checks

Screening employees to ensure a safe workplace is critical, but certain jobs require more comprehensive background checks than others, particularly when personal or national security is at stake. The federal government screens its employees in the hope of achieving a workforce composed of individuals who are “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States.”

While basic background checks can assess an employee’s criminal and personal history, they cannot determine whether or not a person can be entrusted with sensitive information on the federal level. Therefore, the federal government gives its employees security clearances in addition to comprehensive background screenings to safeguard different levels of confidential information. The three types of federal job classifications are:

  1. Non-Sensitive
  2. Public Trust
  3. National Security

The security clearance required for a certain position determines the extent of an job candidate’s background screening. Federal employees with lower-level security clearances undergo basic background checks. Employees with higher security clearances, particularly on the national security level, are subject to lengthy screening processes that examine personal information several years back.

National security clearances have four different classifications:

  1. Confidential clearances expose authorized parties to information that “may cause damage to national security” if exposed to an unauthorized party.
  2. Secret clearances “may cause serious damage to national security” if classified information is exposed to an unauthorized party.
  3. Top secret clearances “may cause exceptionally grave damage” if classified information exposed to an authorized party.
  4. Sensitive compartmented information deals with sensitive intelligence and how it is handled under specific control channels.

Federal agencies alone authorize the aforementioned security clearances for their employees. These clearances are detailed and layered within the agencies themselves and companies specifically contracted with the federal government. Anyone who has a security clearance within the federal system receives a job offer before undergoing a background check process that can take up to a year depending on clearance level and department resources.

Because a basic, automated background screening cannot give the government the assurance that an individual has the capacity to protect information that could threaten national security, federal agencies spend the necessary time and money to acquire employees worthy of the trust required for each security clearance.

A Royal Con in History: Gregor MacGregor and the Invention of Poyais

Historically famous cons have two things in common: a significant number of duped individuals and a significant amount of financial damage, all from a false origin. The 1820s and 30s saw one of the greatest cons of all time from a Scottish Jack of all trades named Gregor MacGregor. Though the scheme barely broke 1 million British pounds in financial damage, MacGregor was successful in fabricating an entire country, an endeavor that incurred human fatalities.

Gregor MacGregor had many positions during his lifetime, from soldier to land speculator, but none was so famous as his role as cacique (a native chief or leader) of Poyais, a country MacGregor claimed to exist in Central America near the Panama Canal. Upon returning from his military duties in the early 1820s, MacGregor claimed that he had been named the leader of Poyais, a land rich with fertile crops, gold, and an amiable indigenous people.

MacGregor’s fake country was attractive to investors because the location and composition appeared to be ideal for colonization and trade. MacGregor hyperbolized his military achievements to set himself up as a worthy leader of the fictitious country and started selling bonds, loans, and land rights that equaled almost an entire month’s salary for the middle class. He opened up offices in Britain with political staff and distributed publications by non-existent authors that described the bountiful (and equally non-existent) land of Poyais. Macgregor even printed fake Poyais currency and exchanged it for British money.

Two years after the inception of Poyais, settlers who were promised land made the journey to Central America where MacGregor claimed the country existed. All they found were ruins and jungle and indifferent natives who were nothing like the helpful citizens that MacGregor described. These settlers used the resources they brought with them, and by the time they were extracted to Belize, two-third of them had died from disease, destruction, and suicide. Surprisingly, many of the settlers stood up for MacGregor, electing to blame his publishers for their misfortune.

MacGregor continued his scheme in France, where his con finally caught up with him, at least in the respect that people started to acknowledge that is was a con. As officials looked to prosecute those in line with the Poyais scheme, they found MacGregor in hiding and brought him to trial. Yet again, he escaped consequence and was acquitted of all charges. MacGregor attempted to capitalize on the “existence” of Poyais for almost two decades, but investors eventually died out and MacGregor moved to Venezuela where he died after gaining a military pension.

MacGregor’s wildly successful scheme (in the sheer numbers of people who believed him alone and their willingness to finance a country of which there was no evidence) provides a sound warning to investors that is still applicable today: ideal investments (and the individuals behind them) should undergo strict examination. Otherwise, the fallout from a good con is likely to supersede the financial realm.

The SEC Stands Up to Violent Criminal Behavior Amongst College Athletes

A new statute in the NCAA Southeastern Conference (SEC) seems to mimic a concern voiced earlier this year by the NFL draft: violent crimes amongst athletes are overwhelmingly prevelent, and they should not be tolerated. The SEC has declared that any student from any institution found linked to serious criminal behavior involving sexual assault, domestic violence, or sexual violence will not be allowed to transfer to an SEC school in order to play for one of their teams. In the past, several athletes facing violent crimes charges have been allowed to transfer to schools within the SEC.

The last decade has seen a significant climb in criminal activity amongst college athletes. Though male athletes constitute a very small percentage of the overall student body of the nation’s top universities, in 2010 they accounted for 1/3 of documented college sexual abuse cases. Furthermore, 1/4 of the athletes from the top 25 NCAA institutions have been connected to known criminal behavior, even though only two of these universities require their athetes to undergo a criminal background check.

The NCAA does not have any requirements for screening the backgrounds of college athletes, and many would prefer to see that decision left to the individual schools themselves. However, the SEC uniting its universities against violent sex crimes does make the code of conduct for athletes across the region more uniform. Any athlete wishing to transfer to one of these schools knows he or she cannot have a violent criminal past related to domestic and sex crimes, and that knowledge will hopefully decrease criminal action.

One might wonder why universities that gain so much attention wouldn’t disallow all criminal behavior from entering their ranks. The answer could have something to do with how many college athletes have criminal records. Banning them from play would limit the amount of talent on the field. Additionally, many college athletes have overcome their pasts and some argue that a criminal record should not define an individual’s promise on a college level. The most serious crimes, and often the most frequently committed against college athletes, are finally being taken seriously, and the SEC’s ruling is a reflection of intolerance for some of the ugliest behaviors.

TSA Proposes Increased Background Checks to Increase Airport Security

With all of the security screenings a passenger undergoes during airline travel, one might be surprised that airport employees are not subject to the same security checks. In fact, only two airports in the United States have a full screening process for their employees, and many airports do not require personnel to go through metal detectors prior to work. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) claims that increasing security measures on other levels is a better solution to airport safety, as comprehensive physical screenings of airport employees on a national level do not necessarily diminish security risks.

Though screening every airport employee prior to a scheduled shift may seem like a fool-proof way of keeping contraband material from entering secure zones, TSA authorities claim that conducting a full physical screening on every employee is not a financial reality. Furthermore, security screenings cannot indicate an individual’s intention to cause harm, even if they can catch those who might be carrying dangerous materials. The TSA has proposed some multi-layered measures to decrease the risk of threats from airport personnel:

  • All aviation employees must undergo recurring background checks (every two years).
  • Airport employees will go through a full security screening when traveling as passengers.
  • Airports will have fewer access points to secure areas.
  • Airport employees should be prepared for increased random screenings.
  • Airport security will target baggage and cargo areas for routine checks.
  • The TSA will increase the range of databases they search for employee criminal background checks.

The proposed nationwide changes to airport security arose as a result of an incident in Atlanta in December 2014 where an airport worker assisted a passenger in smuggling guns into a secure area. The occurence indicates a need for more accountability of airport personnel, and the TSA will continue to investigate methods of increasing security for these individuals. The TSA says an employee reward system for reporting security risks and heavier surveillance of social media may enhance safety measures on a domestic scale.

The conclusion from responsible authoritative parties seems to be that airport security incidents are part of an evolving issue, not a lack of diligence of existing security protocol. As methods by which others violate security statutes change, the method by which security issues are prevented must change as well.

Uber Continues to Fight Legal Battles in Civil and Criminal Sector

2015 has brought an onslaught of legal issues for Uber, the prominent company that continues to fight for its reputation and corner on the rideshare market. Uber saw lawsuits in 2014 for questionable hiring practices pertaining to how the company screened its employees, and Uber now says that its current background check process is one way it attempts to deflect security breaches.

Recently, an Oregon-based Uber driver filed a lawsuit in California claiming that the company was responsible for a breach of personal data (mainly names and driver’s license numbers) of 50,ooo + of its drivers across the country. The plaintiff in the suit claims that Uber waited five months to reveal the fact that its drivers’ information had been compromised and that the company could have done more to prevent the security breach.

Nationwide employers like Uber have to be cognizant of how state laws affect their employees (a definition that is causing trouble for the company in Florida legislation regarding which benefits Uber should provide). State laws not only have the potential to complicate legal matters for employers, but also for the employees themselves; because of the breach, thousands of Uber drivers have to monitor their compromised information for years to come. Thus the lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages for those drivers.

Uber is not only defending itself over the release of personal information, but it also has a trial set for October of 2015 in Texas over the information that should be available to the public. The city of Houston wants to release certain statistical data about Uber drivers (i.e. number of drivers in a given location), but the company claims that such information is trade secret that could hurt business, an ironic assertion considering one Uber driver in Houston has been accused of sexual assault.

Uber’s problems do not seem to be over, nor do the accusations against its employees (the number of assaults by Uber drivers continues to grow in multiple cities). If the company is going to assure the paying public that its background screening process is supposed to prevent these violations of personal security, then the coming year should project a decrease in complaints. Only time will tell.


Whole Foods Fights Background Check Lawsuit

Sometimes violations of federal law aren’t blatant. In late 2014, Colin Speer, a former Whole Foods employee in Florida, filed a lawsuit against the company for allegedly failing to comply with FCRA standards regarding background checks. Speer claims that Whole Foods obtained his consumer report, but he was notified of this fact in a document that also contained a release of liability. According to the law, consent for the procurement of consumer reports must be “clear and conspicuous,” so any FCRA-protected documentation requires a stand-alone disclosure form in order to obtain that information. Combining a disclosure form with a release of liability or any other document is illegal.

The FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) went into effect in 1970 and serves to protect personal information (i.e. credit reports). Businesses cannot obtain a consumer report just because they have an individual’s information, and they can’t use the information they obtain however they want even if an individual provides consent. If a company wants to procure a consumer report as part of a job application or requirement, that company must provide a singular disclosure to the applicant or employee for that purpose. That individual must consent to the check, and if a job candidate loses an employment opportunity as a result of information in his/her consumer reports, the discerning company must notify that candidate in writing as to its reasoning.

Whole Foods claims that they did not violate FCRA standards, but small adjustments in documentation that do not appear “clear and conspicuous” to a prospective or current employee can have severe consequences as a result of lawsuits like the one filed by Speers. Companies have and will continue to lose millions of dollars to this type of litigation, not to mention the time spent inundated in court battles on both sides. City and state laws regarding background checks further complicate a shady business dealing, especially if a company is working with a third-party screening firm that is working under laws in a separate state. Not having a piece of paper, or even a phrase on that paper, in complete accordance with the law can result in a logistical nightmare for everyone involved.

Though the law on FCRA standards for the procurement and use of an indivdual’s confidential information is clear, not every employer complies, and they’ll keep paying for it until they do. Whole Foods is just one of many companies embroiled in an unnecessary struggle.