"As a result of the Snowden disclosures I think we're seeing what an open book workers' lives are becoming," Borer said.
Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, a civil liberties group, said workers' free speech, political allegiances and outside activities could be chilled under the threat of constant monitoring. Some workers might face scrutiny because of inaccurate reporting, Tien said.
Officials familiar with the DNI's system said internal guidelines, audits, encryption and other precautions built into the proposal were designed to minimize abuses of private information. A 2007 Homeland Security review of the ACES project concluded that "the system contains security and procedural controls to ensure that data is made available to only those with a legitimate need as defined by the underlying legal authorities."
Congressional officials said the DNI already has sufficient permission under U.S. law to launch the new electronic monitoring on its own, but a bill recently introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would provide additional legal support. Collins' bill calls for at least two random computerized reviews every five years for each of the 5 million government workers with a secret clearance.
Intelligence community veterans said electronic monitoring was designed to detect lavish spending and discipline problems that can go undetected during the years between a worker's first background check and re-investigation — every 5 or 10 years, depending on the clearance level.
The Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a consortium of public and private national security interests, called for continuous monitoring in a new report released last week.
Intelligence veterans say rogue agents John Walker, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen might have been exposed much earlier by such a system.
"We have to be willing to look at indications of behavior," said Joel Brenner, former senior counsel at the NSA and head of counterintelligence for the DNI. Brenner pointed to Hanssen as the sort of "serial rule-breaker" who might have been quickly detected by electronic monitoring.
Brenner cautioned that the success of electronic monitoring depends on those manning its controls. "The system only works well," he said, "if it has thoughtful, educated, careful human beings behind it."
Associated Press writer Jack Gillum contributed to this report.