What Is a Security Clearance?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2020
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A security clearance provides access to something that is not available to the masses. This type of privilege can generally be divided into two categories, access to places or access to information. There are often different levels of security clearances. To obtain one generally involves a complex process and may require a person to relinquish certain liberties.

Having or needing a security clearance is an issue that commonly arises with regard to government jobs or jobs that involve dealing with highly sensitive information, such as defense technology. The type of accessibility that a security clearance grants can vary. In some cases, a security clearance does not grant a person access to anything specific. Instead, it acts to remove a barrier that would otherwise make an individual ineligible for an opportunity, such as employment.

Some security clearances grant people access to places, such as secured facilities or restricted areas within a facility. In other instances, a person may be given access to information. There are often different levels of clearances. For example, one person may have access to documents that are classified as confidential, while her colleague may have access to documents that are classified as top secret.


The accessibility privilege that a person is given is often commensurate with the position she holds. An executive assistant may need access to a confidential client list, but she probably does not need access to weapon specifications. An engineer, however, may need access to both types of information and may therefore need a higher security clearance.

Obtaining a security clearance is generally a lengthy process, which begins with a person filing an application or making a request. The exact procedure and requirements for approval will depend on the authority that is to make the decision and what it is that the applicant is seeking access to. Common elements include drug testing and a criminal background check. An applicant's physical health, mental health, and financial history may be investigated, and information may also be sought regarding the applicant's family and associates.

In some instances, this type of accessibility privilege may be subject to periodic review. An individual is not generally required to proceed through the entire process again, but in some cases it may be necessary. Having a security clearance may involve agreeing to relinquish some liberties. For example, some government security clearances are issued only if individuals agree that their homes may searched at any time or that they will not travel to certain countries without consent.



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