If I'm known to have breached copyright in software systems, trade secrets and intellectual property of commercial firms, will that be a deciding factor for being granted government security clearances? The motives for doing so in a commercial setting may not apply when working for a government organization and your loyalty to the country may not be in question.

Also, "breach of copyright" can denote a wide range of activities, ranging from reverse engineering software to not strictly complying with their license restrictions. Would those personal use-level activities be taken into consideration as well?

  • 2
    Yes. If you have shared information you should not have shared, and your background check will discover that event has happen, you are unlikely to get a security clearance. All actions will be taken into consideration. But honestly, we cannot predict what actually will happen but sharing information you should not share will be a huge negative and a warning sign you will continue to repeat the same behavior only with classified information.
    – Donald
    Apr 28, 2014 at 14:49
  • 1
    possible duplicate of Pre-Employment Background check: what constitutes "bad"? Apr 28, 2014 at 16:09
  • @Ramhound - I respectfully disagree. Do remember that the DADT military policy was meant to prevent blackmail and perhaps the leak of classified military secrets. Afterall, If you could not hide something as sensitive about your self, such as your sexual preference, why would one believe you could keep bigger secrets? But that argument does not hold water in the security community today.
    – Nederealm
    Apr 28, 2014 at 17:49
  • @Nederealm - Do you hold a security clearance? I can tell you they do care about something like leaking internal classified company documents.
    – Donald
    Apr 28, 2014 at 19:15
  • 1
    @chad do you not know Government security clearance vetting is very very different to some civilian bg check. Its expensive and takes several weeks to months About the same as the difference between a weekend paintball player and a SF operator (Delta/SAS etc)
    – Pepone
    Jun 19, 2014 at 11:49

2 Answers 2


There are some questions on the SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions that are specifically oriented toward professional behavior as well as the use of information technology systems. Based on the examples in your question, I would suspect that you would likely have to answer 27.1 or 27.3 in the affirmative, and provide specific details regarding the events in question.

Question 13C:

Have any of the following happened to you in the last seven (7) years at employment activities that you have not previously listed?


Received a written warning, been officially reprimanded, suspended, or disciplined for misconduct in the workplace, such as a violation of a security policy?

Answering in the affirmative requires that you complete a question in 13A to detail the event. Previous questions also require references at employers in the past 7 years, and your work behavior is likely to come up in contact with those references.

Question 27.1:

In the last seven (7) years have you illegally or without proper authorization accessed or attempted to access any information technology system?

Question 27.2:

In the last seven (7) years have you illegally or without authorization, modified, destroyed, manipulated, or denied others access to information residing on an information technology system or attempted any of the above?

Question 27.3:

In the last seven (7) years, have you introduced, removed, or used hardware, software, or media in connection with any information technology without authorization, when specifically prohibited by rules, procedures, guidelines, or regulations or attempted any of the above.

Falsifying this form is likely to be far, far more damaging than answering yes to any of these questions. I'm not sure that one of these will entirely remove your eligibility. I don't have a link handy, but the results of some clearance adjudication reviews for contractors are actually posted. You'd probably be surprised at what gets approved, as long as you properly disclose it.

  • I knew these clauses existed but basically they all seem to focus on active intrusion to have unauthorized access to data on a remote system (presumably not belonging to you). This accounts for the many leaks happening today. However, my concern is using commercial software freely downloadable from the Internet without or not in accordance with the license agreement, or plainly put ("piracy"). Done in a personal capacity, not in the workplace (which may violate company guidelines). Is this covered under 27(3)?
    – Nederealm
    Apr 28, 2014 at 17:56
  • @Nederealm Is that not what you are asking about. Removing "media", which includes documents, without authorization and sharing them against rules, guidelines, or regulations appears to cover what you're talking about. If you had rightful access to information, but removed it from the system and distributed it without authorization, I would expect an affirmative answer to 27.3, and an affirmative answer to 13C if your employer took any kind of action against you, in addition to affirmative answers to the legal questions if those applies as well. Apr 28, 2014 at 18:00
  • @Nederealm With regards to your comment edit, I'd say yes. If you don't legally have the right to install and use the software within the rules or guidelines of the license, I'd expect an affirmative answer to 27.3. Apr 28, 2014 at 18:01
  • Good that you clarified. But possible rationale behind government concern that you used pirated or unpaid licensed software on your personal computer that would have security implications?
    – Nederealm
    Apr 28, 2014 at 18:15
  • 1
    @Nederealm They're just trying to get a complete picture of who you are and if there is any risk associated with giving you access to information that, in the wrong hands, could do damage to national security or put people's lives in danger. People that I know who answered yes to that question and explained it as piracy of something like Photoshop were pretty much told they should uninstall it and stop illegally downloading software, music, videos, etc. I don't know of anyone who was rejected from a clearance because they illegally downloaded music and movies and software in college. Apr 28, 2014 at 18:21

I can only speak to my personal experience in the matter.

I took my e-QIP in 2006, so the questions may have changed since then, but basically I saw similar questions and asked my supervisor about them, specifically with how they related to downloaded songs and movies. Her response was "They really don't care if you've downloaded a couple songs. If you've got a couple thousand, they might care. If you're running an underground distribution site, they definitely care."

So if you're worried about a handful of isolated cases where you've maybe borrowed a friends windows DVD to install it for free, or you've used a YouTube ripper to get a copy of some of your favorite songs, do yourself and them a favor and don't waste their time with that.

So we have two extremes: one is "I run an illegal file sharing site" and the other is "I ripped a couple songs off YouTube". We know somewhere in between these two extremes lies a tipping point where you need to write it down. Where exactly that tipping point is I can't say - it's probably different than it was when I took mine, in a pre-Snowden world. In a post-Snowden world, it's tougher to say.

Of course, the FBI is considering letting potheads in as long as you have the skills they need. If the FBI (and CIA, NSA, other TLAs you don't even know exist) didn't let pirates into their ranks (at the very least, pirates who weren't foolish enough to lead a trail back to them) they wouldn't have a talent pool big enough to compete.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .