Avatars and Security Clearances: How can we reconcile the two?
Government and military personnel in positions of trust are required to obtain and retain security clearances as part of conducting their duties within those positions. Part of obtaining a clearance requires personnel to report on any foreign contacts or business interests they may have. During the time that they hold such a position, personnel must report any significant contact with citizens of various countries to ensure they have not been targeted as part of a foreign intelligence collection effort. As more cleared personnel begin actively participating in virtual worlds, and as more personnel already active in virtual worlds begin applying for positions of trust, how will vetting agencies reconcile the borderless nature of virtual worlds with the requirements set forth for establishing and maintaining security clearances?
Legislation has historically not kept pace with rapidly developing community technologies, and bureaucracies may make a choice between taking online relationships too seriously, and not taking them seriously enough. In the past, foreign relationships were easily defined, with physical travel, face-to-face contact, phone, and postal connections being the norm. Today, the global nature of online gaming and virtual environments make these definitions less clear. In order to ensure personnel continue to be effectively screened, virtual worlds and relationships, however benign, may need to be taken into account as part of the vetting process. If so, they will need to be properly understood by the investigating agencies. This paper proposes to outline some of the relevant issues involved in a rapidly evolving online community.
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