President Obama has instructed the government office responsible for performing most federal employee background checks, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to prepare a pilot program that will automatically track the social media posts of people applying for security clearances.

Market research is already underway to find companies to conduct automated social media tracking and web “crawling,” that will be integrated in the investigative process prior to being hired for federal employees.

Companies interested in bidding for contracts to perform that aspect of background searches have until April 15 to respond.

The OPM is specifically looking for companies that have automated capability to browse public posts to sites like Facebook and Twitter, e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon, as well as blog postings, photo and video share sites, and court records available online, without human intervention.

The president’s directive is to find companies that can search deep into the World Wide Web, beyond standard search engines and simply “googling” the name of an applicant, and what the Office calls, “a robust identity matching algorithm” to discern differences between similar names.

The project will pair the OPM with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence with tests on 400 investigations.

The plan is the latest in the effort to monitor the social media and online presence of federal employees and contractors who hold clearance using technology to perform data checks on a continuous basis, rather than relying on the longstanding procedure of conducting period reviews once every five to ten years.

The administration missed a December 2014 deadline according to progress updates posted on the site, but says the new plan would be implemented in phases, providing continuous evaluation of at least 5 per cent of top-secret clearance holders in three years.

After the OPM suffered a data breach impacted millions of background investigation records, and failed to identify issues with the check of National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the Obama administration turned the responsibility to storing and securing sensitive files to the Defense Department.

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