By: Francesca Gaspari
Employers, especially government agencies, face a balancing predicament when it comes to employee privacy interests and thoroughly investigating job applicants. Employers engage in extensive background checks to ensure safe working environments, qualified personnel, and a respectful atmosphere. Documents containing sensitive information may be acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request. Applicants of governments agencies are often required to give their private information in order to obtain employment. Background checks done in connection to governmental political positions are accessible to anyone who writes a request to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In August of 2018, Abigail Spanberger, a democrat and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, ran for Congress in the Seventh District of Virginia. While campaigning, her official personal file, which contained highly sensitive information, was released. Many questioned whether the release was genuine human error or a political stunt, in hopes to obtain Spanberger’s federal security clearance application. Spanberger’s clearance application contained personal and detailed information, including her hometown and the schools she attended.
Investigators gather this information by talking to current and former neighbors, co-workers, and classmates. Unfortunately, that information could be published and disseminated by those who obtain it for the wrong reasons, which happened to Spanberger, by exposing and exploiting her in the political realm. Spanberger’s information was acquired through a request to the FOIA. Should it be easy enough to acquire another person’s vital information in order to harm them?
Exemptions to FOIA allow a person to waive the protection of confidentiality and this is an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Although this information is unavailable to the public without a request, the opportunity exists to submit a written request describing what they desire to seek. All the requesting party must include in the written request for “any agency record” is the identification of a proper agency, which then entitles them to the information. Many take advantage of the FOIA, using it as a tool in discovery procedures. Using FOIA in this way is an unwarranted invasion of a person’s privacy and tends to be used for law enforcement investigatory purposes.
 Michael Sasso & Jeff Green, More Employers Adopting Continuous Background Checks on Employees, Insurance J. (Jul. 12, 2018), https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2018/07/12/494922.htm.
 Alice Mills, Employment Law and the #MeToo Movement (last visited Nov. 20, 2018), https://www.employmentlawhandbook.com/resources/employment-law-me-too.
 Michael Tackett, Postal Service Improperly Divulged Spanberger’s Sensitive National Security File and Asks for it Back, NY Times (Aug. 28, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/us/politics/cia-officer-house-election-super-pac.html.
 Sterling Solutions, Background Checks, Sterling (last visited Nov. 6, 2018) https://www.sterlingtalentsolutions.com/blog/category/background-checks/.
 FOIA, 5 U.S.C. §552 (1967).
 Laura Vozzella, Ex-CIA Officer’s Full Personnel File Released in ‘Human Error,’ Postal Service Admits, Wash. Post (Aug. 30, 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/ex-cia-officers-full-personnel-file-released-in-human-error-postal-service-admits/2018/08/30/c13af592-ac7b-11e8-8a0c-70b618c98d3c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a5ba5086df38.
 Michael Tackett, C.I.A. Officer-Turned-Candidate Says PAC Obtained Her Security Application, NY Times (Aug. 28, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/us/politics/cia-officer-house-election-super-pac.html.
 Laura Vozzella, Ex-CIA officer running for Congress says GOP obtained her unredacted personnel file with sensitive information, Wash. Post (Aug. 29, 2018)
 Tackett, supra note 3.
 FOIA, supra note 5 at (b)(7)(D).
 FOIA, supra note 5 at (b)(7)(D).
 FOIA, supra note 5 at (b)(7)(C).