Human rights groups are questioning new guidelines on security clearance which may discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Sexuality is referred to as a determining factor in access to classified information, according to a revision of the, Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information.

The guidelines state, “The ability to develop specific thresholds for action under these guidelines is limited by the nature and complexity of human behaviour,” sexual behaviour is listed as the fourth limiting criteria along with foreign influence and allegiance to the United States.

The group says changes circulated by national security adviser Stephen Hadley show that in December 2005 guidelines were changed to read that an applicant cannot be disqualified “solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual.” A subtle, yet potentially substantial change for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Originally in 1997, during the Clinton administration, revisions to the guidelines were made to read that sexual orientation “may not be used” as a disqualifying factor for a national security clearance.

The limits also refer to criminal sexual behaviour, but Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said, “Subtle changes can have drastic consequences for gay Americans looking to serve their country with honour and courage.”

“This administration continues to roll back the clock on the most basic of protections that were granted by the last administration, continuing to call into question this administration’s commitment to fairness and equality. We think it is vital for National Security Adviser Hadley to quickly and publicly come out and address why these changes were made.”

In the updated language, security clearances cannot be denied “solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual.”

Gay rights activists said the change could place added emphasis on sexual orientation and discrimination.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the language was changed in part because of a 1995 executive order aimed at preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“There’s no change in our policy,” Mr McClellan said. “I think that they updated the language to reflect exactly what was spelled out in the executive order.”