Security clearance the mystique unveiled

Mass of keys jumbled up
Security clearance process is a jungle.

There are a great number of misconceptions about the security clearance process for people working with secure or sensitive information. In this article, I unveil the mystique.

Many roles for central government departments require levels of security clearance as they involve sensitive or secure information or the need to work on a secure site. Some of the most frequently asked questions relating to security clearance are:

What does security clearance mean?
What are the different types of security clearance?
How can I obtain security clearance?
How long can a security clearance take?
Who holds the details on all security cleared people?
What is the process involved in the transferring of the clearance from one central government department to another? 
Can a security clearance lapse before its expiry date?

What does security clearance mean?

A security clearance is a series of checks that provide a certain level of assurance at a point in time, as to an individual's suitability to have trusted access to sensitive information. It does not provide a guarantee of future reliability and all security clearances are kept under review to ensure that the necessary level of assurance is maintained. This review is carried out by government departments and government-sponsored contractors, who are responsible for the oversight and aftercare of individuals granted a security clearance.

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What are the different types of security clearance?

There are two very basic levels of checking: BPSS (formerly BC) and EBS (formerly EBC). These are not formal security clearances. They are a package of pre-employment checks that represent good recruitment and employment practice. The BPSS may be sufficient for certain types of work or whilst one of the other higher levels of clearance is in progress.

CTC is required for people who will be working in close proximity to public figures, or who will have access to information or material vulnerable to terrorist attack, or whose work involves unrestricted access to certain government or commercial establishments.

SC is probably the most common level of checking that is required for most people working for central government departments. You will need this if you will have substantial access to secret assets or occasional access to top secret assets and information.

DV is the highest level of clearance and is required for people who will have substantial unsupervised access to top secret assets, or for working in or with the intelligence and security agencies.

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How can I obtain security clearance?

Firstly you need a sponsor. Only a company or government department designated by government or MoD can act as a sponsor. Individuals and companies cannot therefore request security clearance. This can easily lead to frustration as you could easily end up in a “chicken and egg” situation – you need security clearance to apply for a role but can’t find a sponsor unless you are in one.

There are occasions where you will be employed based on BPSS whilst one of the other levels of security clearance is taking place.

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How long can a security clearance take?

This depends on a number of factors. The BPSS is a matter of days whereas SC or DV may take six months or more. There are also a number of documents you will need to provide so it is best to make sure that you are up to date and organised in your personal matters.

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Who holds the details on all security cleared people?

The sponsor (normally a central government department) will hold their own security clearance details.  The DVA holds the security clearance information relating to the MoD.

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What is the process involved in the transferring of the clearance from one central government department to another?

In most cases, a transference is not required as long as the second government department has proof of your clearance from the first one. A new security clearance process would only start once your current clearance is no longer valid.

If a transference of security clearance is required, this will be the responsibility of the two government departments.

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Can a security clearance lapse before its expiry date?

There are no formal rules on this. It really depends on the level of clearance and the department which granted it. Clearance can end anything from immediately to one year after you have finished your last role.

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This page was last updated on Saturday, 28th February 2009.