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US government wants to use machines to constantly monitor up to 5 million employees

US government wants to use machines to constantly monitor up to 5 million employees

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The US government is planning to crack down on potential leakers and threats with a detailed personnel-monitoring system that could go into place later this year, according to the Associated Press. The system would reportedly tap into a wide variety of government databases — including military records, licenses, and local law enforcement reports — and reach out to private credit agencies as well to allow workers' behaviors to be continuously analyzed for anything unusual.

The AP says that the system will monitor "many" of the 5 million federal employees with security clearance, though it's not made clear if this will include government contractors as well. That's a particularly major sticking point, as the system is ostensibly a clear response to the leaks from Edward Snowden, who caused a wave of criticism from lawmakers and the intelligence community regarding the extent to which a government contractor was able to gain access to classified documents, as well as the Navy Yard shooting by a contractor in September.

"What we need is a system of continuous evaluation."

The monitoring system may launch at select government agencies this September and be operational at all agencies by September 2016, according to the AP. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has already floated such a system when speaking with lawmakers, reportedly saying last month that "What we need is a system of continuous evaluation where when someone is in the system and they're cleared initially, then we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job." It will apparently be a costly program.

Naturally, the government's plan to deeply analyze contractors' records has spurred some privacy concerns, particularly from one federal workers' union, the American Federation of Government Employees. "The problem is you're spreading all this private data around to more and more people, both inside and outside," David Borer, the union's general counsel, tells the AP. In part, the concern arises because additional government contractors would likely be hired to monitor the system, potentially giving them access to detailed information about other contractors.

A government report due this month on the security clearance process is reportedly expected to support the type of continuous monitoring system that Clapper has discussed. According to the AP, the system will be based off of a more than $84 million program developed over the course of a decade at the Pentagon, and Clapper apparently has the legal permissions needed to put it into place. Government workers' reviews reportedly occur every five to ten years at the moment — if the new system is put into place, that timespan would effectively vanish, allowing no noteworthy change to go unnoticed as long as a computer is programmed to detect it.