Imagine a piece of information that would be useful to store digitally if it could be kept secure, but that would do more harm than good if it ever fell into the wrong hands. With Friday’s news that “hackers have breached a database containing a wealth of sensitive information from federal employees’ security background checks,” just that sort of fraught information has arguably been exposed to hackers.
One of the documents that they got, the Questionnaire for National Security Positions, asked federal workers and contractors seeking security clearances “to disclose everything from mental illnesses, financial interests, and bankruptcy issues to any brush with the law, major and minor drug and alcohol use as well as a robust listing of an applicant’s family members, associates, or former roommates,” my colleague Adam Chandler explains. “At the bottom of each page, a potential employee must submit his or her social security number. Given the length, that means if you’re filling out this document, you will write your SSN over 115 times.”
That trove of information was useful to the national security bureaucracy in its efforts to stop espionage, monitor potential blackmail, and otherwise police its employees.