The White House has altered the phraseology of a policy which describes the grounds for granting security clearances to gays and lesbians.

‘Security clearance’ is a formal check required in the US for handling confidential data or documents.

It is often requested by US employers as a compulsory verification for employees.

The 1997 regulation which stated that, “sexual orientation may not be used as a basis for denying clearance,” has been modified to read: “security clearances cannot be denied solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual.”

New regulations distributed in December also said that if sexual behaviour is “strictly private, consensual and discreet,” it could reduce security concerns.

“The Bush administration is waging a covert war on loyal federal employees who happen to be gay,” Henry Waxman, the leading Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, told AP.

This shift makes LGB people vulnerable to coercion or exploitation.

Gay rights activists say that sexuality will be given increased attention and unnecessarily lead to subsequent discrimination by intolerant employers.

It could also result in blackmail of homosexuals who choose not to disclose their sexuality.

White House spokesperson Scott McClellan has denied that the move implies any express change in policy, insisting that the new rules are similar to the old ones.

“There’s no change in our policy,” McClellan said.

“I think that they updated the language to reflect exactly what was spelled out in the executive order.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Republican staff director, Bill Duhnke, said that the regulations have the same effect, although they approach the issue in slightly different ways.

“It’s a controversy without substance,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether the White House will follow through on its assurances.