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NASA Requires JPL Scientists To Give Up Right To Privacy 446

Posted by Zonk
from the who-needs-a-private-life-when-you-have-science dept.
Markmarkmark writes "Wired is reporting that all NASA JPL scientists must 'voluntarily' (or be fired) sign a document giving the government the right to investigate their personal lives and history 'without limit'. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists this includes snooping into sexual orientation, mental & physical health as well as credit history and 'personality conflict'. 28 senior NASA scientists and engineers, including Mars Rover team members, refused to sign by the deadline and are now subject to being fired despite a decade or more of exemplary service. None of them even work on anything classified or defense related. They are suing the government and documenting their fight for their jobs and right to personal privacy."
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NASA Requires JPL Scientists To Give Up Right To Privacy

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  • by foobsr (693224) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:04PM (#21524651) Homepage Journal
    ... look here NASA Employees Fight Invasive Background Check [slashdot.org] (Posted by CowboyNeal on Fri 31 Aug 01:04AM). Looks like wiring issues [bestpicever.com] seem commonplace.

    CC.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      When I was in the military and needed a Top Secret security clearance in order to use radio encryption gear, this was standard stuff. They ask sexual orientation and credit history to be sure that no bad guys can blackmail you into giving them information. They do personality tests to be sure you aren't crazy. They ask for detailed family histories, and the names and phone numbers of 10 of you closest friends, and they interview those people in person to make sure you are who you say you are.

      Why would JP
      • by rk (6314) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:39PM (#21525141) Journal

        I've been to JPL a couple times when I worked on some Mars Odyssey related stuff, and security is kind of tight for the whole facility. One of the software engineers in our lab is a Pakistani citizen and he wasn't even allowed to come to a party we had there once.

        To my knowledge, there's little classified work that goes on there, but I'm sure there's sensitive stuff... it's literally rocket science. These background checks sound a little too intrusive for a bunch of science geeks, though.

        • Standard Crazy (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Erris (531066)

          It's obviously new and forced. They want current employees to sign. That's changing the game on a captive work group and is second cousin to contract violations.

          Then again, this is an abusive administration that lost it's mind long ago. Is ripping down posters from the gift shop at gunpoint [slashdot.org] crazy enough for you? How about tyring to deny the big bang and global warming [stallman.org]? Yes, that's crazy political censorship of scientists. The investigative powers demanded here go hand in hand with that. When scien

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @10:35PM (#21527599)
          These background checks sound a little too intrusive for a bunch of science geeks, though.

          This kind of invasive crud is becoming rampant in our society.

          Recently the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) published a notice to the nation's radio amateurs advising them of a similar situation. Many hams are routinely involved in emergency communications support for the American Red Cross (ARC).

          Without stating a position for or against, the ARRL advised potential communications volunteers to read very carefully any documents they might be asked to sign before volunteering.

          It turns out that the ARC had recently implemented a policy of requiring background checks for all volunteers. The checks were outsourced to an outfit called MyBackgroundCheck.com http://www.mybackgroundcheck.com/ [mybackgroundcheck.com] which does the same kind of malarkey. The ARRL pointed out that, if you went to the web page to sign up for the check, you would be authorizing not only a criminal history check, but also credit and "lifestyle" checks. The nature of a "lifestyle check" was not specified (worst of all possibilities), but it can easily be guessed what it entails.

          Again, the ARRL did not take a position on whether individual hams should go along with the terms, but only advised careful reading and consideration before authorizing investigations of such vague or unspecified scope. Personally, I have crossed the ARC off my list of organizations I will either volunteer for or provide financial support for.

          It is my understanding that the ARC has backed off on the requirement for communications volunteers and restricted the requirement to "permanent" volunteers only. Sorry -- too late, too little. You shouldn't even have considered the scheme in the first place.

          Now that I'm retired, I expect never again to be tested for drugs, smoking (quit thirty-five years ago anyway), use of alcohol nor to submit to intrusive examinations of any kind. I had to pee in a cup to be hired by IBM, but never again except as required by law. And certainly never when my intent is only to help some organization. If they feel a need to pull this crud on volunteers, then, as far as I'm concerned, their pool of volunteers is way too large.

          i also quit helping with the youth group at my church over this kind of stuff. When the San Francisco archdiocese decided anyone who came into contact with kids had to be fingerprinted, that was where I drew the line. If my twenty-five years of involvement with the kids was not good enough to trust me, then a lousy set of fingerprints was superfluous. I told the youth coordinator that, if the policy was implemented, then she should look for another volunteer to drive kids to retreats, because I would refuse to comply with the policy. They did, so I won't

          As she said, "It's a stupid policy anyway -- why are they bothering the catechists and helpers and not the priests, where the offenses against kids have occurred?"

          By the way, I have already been fingerprinted five times for hiring on with a railroad for five summers, once more for hiring on permanently, once more when entering the military, once more to apply for a state teaching credential and one last time to sign up for the Block Parent program (police- and school district-sponsored) so little kids could have a safe place to go if injured or bullied outside of school hours.

          Enough is enough!

          Oh, I forgot to add up the number of times I've been thumb-printed to cash checks or to get my driver's license renewed (that was three days ago).

  • Very Inappropriate (Score:5, Informative)

    by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:07PM (#21524683)
    These guys are scientists, not super secret spies. Besides, a clean slate is no guarantee a rocket scientist isn't going to go psycho after getting dumped and stalk his ex. Also sets a horrible precedent for other top-tier science fields.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by plover (150551) *

      Besides, a clean slate is no guarantee a rocket scientist isn't going to go psycho after getting dumped and stalk his ex.
      Wait, are you saying that a rocket scientist who has undergone all those background checks [cnn.com] might still flip out anyway? I don't think that's possible.</sarcasm>
    • NASA are always worried about their image. They need to be to keep their funding. While the astronauts are far more visible than the people at JPL, JPLers doing the psycho diaper thing could still embarrass them.

      Sure there are no guarantees, but some heavy-duty background checking does cut down on wierdos.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Loether (769074)

        heavy-duty background checking does cut down on wierdos.
        It also cuts down on highly qualified scientists. Oh.... never mind. good point.
    • by davidsyes (765062) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:04PM (#21525545) Homepage Journal
      See these:

      http://www.ntc.doe.gov/cita/CI_Awareness_Guide/S5improp/Ci.htm#Counterintelligence [doe.gov]

      By the Numbers:

      http://www.ntc.doe.gov/cita/CI_Awareness_Guide/Treason/Numbers.htm#Espionage%20by%20the%20Numbers [doe.gov]

      Get this:

      "Here are a few additional highlights from this database that give us additional understanding about motivations and situational factors leading to espionage:

              * Over 42% of the offenders are known to have been involved in drug or alcohol abuse. The actual figure may be higher, as there are many cases in which the unclassified record is insufficient to make a judgment on this subject. Those who were caught before classified information was even passed were more likely to be substance abusers than those who succeeded in committing espionage.

              * Of the 148 offenders, 6 were homosexual, 106 heterosexual, and the sexual orientation of the remaining 36 is not known from the unclassified record. Homosexuality is not known to have been a significant factor in any of the cases.

              * Volunteer spies were more likely to fail in their effort to pass information to foreign interests. Almost 40% of the volunteers were caught in the act, whereas only 7% of the recruited spies were intercepted before they could damage national security."

      Repeat for emphasis:

              * Of the 148 offenders, 6 were homosexual...

      I saw a flyer, around 1991, stating that of ALL the known cases of espionage, treason, and similar, some 98%-99% of the persons caught/convicted/shut down were:

      -white
      -make
      -heterosexual
      -Christian

      This seems to turn on its head the "susceptibility of homosexual" prospects/targets.... But, don't have to believe me, just look at the section "By the Numbers" and look at drug abuser risk, etc.

      It seems to me the DIA/NSA/DIS/NIS/et al can do all the searching they want WITHOUT dicking around in the private lives of scientists or military personnel. Just keep burning those who screw up, and let the others "be on the best behavior".

      But, somehow I think the government is just pursuing this as another component of wrecking the public tenuous thread to rights and expectations of privacy and anonymity.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by grassy_knoll (412409)
        Not that I disagree with your post, but as to this:

        This seems to turn on its head the "susceptibility of homosexual" prospects/targets

        I think the idea was not so much that "homosexual == ZOMG! SPY!" but rather that most homosexuals didn't want their preference known by their family, friends, et. al., for fear of rejection / discrimination. Thus, someone who found out about their preference could use that information to blackmail them into revealing classified information.

        That may have been true in the 50's

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rahvin112 (446269)
        The general population is in general considered to be ~10% homosexual with an additional 10% or so that are likely to be homosexual and an unknown % of bisexual (some studies have indicated 40% of the population has had at least one sexual encounter with the same sex). Because so many gay people stay in the closet their whole lives and refuse to answer questions about it truthfully it's difficult to pin the number down accurately but most research indicates it's higher than 10% and probably close to 20% if
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by HeroreV (869368)

          most research indicates it's higher than 10% and probably close to 20%

          I'm gay and this sounds like bullshit. Studies on the prevalence of homosexuality range all over the place, but I've never heard of any serious studies claiming anywhere near 1 in 5 people were gay. Usually the people I hear these greatly exaggerated claims from are gay people who think being different is bad.

          From Wikipedia:

          In general, surveys quoted by anti-gay activists tend to show figures nearer 1%, while surveys quoted by gay activists tend to show figures nearer 10%, with a mean of 4-5% figure most o

    • by ricree (969643) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:12PM (#21525647)
      Seriously, it's like the government is going out of their way to make the US noncompetitive. Many of them are top tier scientists and engineers who are almost certain to have no problem finding work elsewhere. Pulling shit like this just means that NASA is going to drive talent into the arms of other organizations.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Pulling shit like this just means that NASA is going to drive talent into the arms of other organizations.

        It's been happening for a long time.

        I turned down a job at JPL in the early '90's. My wife was pregnant at the time and I decided that I would rather give up my dream job (working in the Advanced Propulsion Group) than have my kid raised as an American (I am Canadian.) Even then I was concerned with where the U.S. was heading, and the current reality is worse than I could have imagined.

        It turned out t
  • Easy fix (Score:2, Funny)

    by PsyQo (1020321)
    What do they want to do when no one signs this? Fire every scientist? Not going to happen.
    • What do they want to do when no one signs this? Fire every scientist? Not going to happen.


      Hopefully it will work out like you mapped it. However, the white house figures if they throw out enough fud, they'll be able to bust solidarity and get enough to cave and sign in order to make it effective. I would hope a group of the best scientists in the world would be able to stick this fight out.
    • by TheMeuge (645043) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:13PM (#21524773)
      Easy fix indeed. Given the approach this country has taken to its scientists, I wouldn't be surprised if what you suggest will be exactly what happens - the scientists rebel, and promptly get fired en masse. Why? Because nobody cares.

      Railroad workers, airline workers, even taxicab drivers - when any of these professions strike, it is felt immediately by the general population, so there is a push to resolve the issues amicably, so that they could return to work.

      If all scientists in the US... not just the NASA rocket scientists... stop working RIGHT NOW... the vast majority of the population won't know, and the majority of those who know, won't care.

      Why? Because nothing that these people do affects us EVERY DAY. Thus, they're not important. Which is why a post-doc at a top-tier academic institution, will be making <$32'000/year.
      • Oh definitely not affecting our every day lives [nasa.gov].

        I know you don't exactly drink Tang every day, but exactly what percentage of the United State's population do you think is affected by weather satellites?
        • by MenTaLguY (5483)
          What the GP is suggesting is that if scientists went on strike, weather satellites (for example) wouldn't immediately disappear. There would be a long-term impact, but it would take a long time to be felt.
        • How long would it take the average person to realize that the scientists had all walked out, though?

          It's not like Tang would disappear, or their car's GPS system would suddenly turn off. It's just that things wouldn't advance. Progress would grind to a halt, but it's not like the immediate "oh shit" effect you get, when the garbagemen don't show up on Monday morning.

          Probably the first thing most people would know is when they get told to start learning Mandarin, because their company just got bought.
      • by enjo13 (444114)
        By that logic Accounting Professors shouldn't be (largely) making more the $100k...yet they are ($150k and above at top tier schools). After all, they hardly affect people EVERY DAY.

        The amount paid to these researchers is more about market economics than anything else. There are a lot of talented researchers (more supply) driving their salaries down. The same is not true for Accountants, as very few of them go on to get doctoral degrees (and fewer still choose to stay in academia). Their salaries are not AT
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheMeuge (645043)
          <blockquote>The amount paid to these researchers is more about market economics than anything else. There are a lot of talented researchers (more supply) driving their salaries down. The same is not true for Accountants, as very few of them go on to get doctoral degrees (and fewer still choose to stay in academia). Their salaries are not AT ALL a reflection of how much people care about what they do.</blockquote>
          I live in New York City. We here have a state-sponsored monopoly known as the Metrop
      • If all scientists in the US... not just the NASA rocket scientists... stop working RIGHT NOW... the vast majority of the population won't know, and the majority of those who know, won't care.

        They might not care now, but they would in the future. The Bush administration is wacked up, but I have just a little bit of faith that it won't come to that. America is a big, old, resilient creature. Society itself has developed enough to where there are protections to keep from a crazy administration getting rid o

      • by iknownuttin (1099999) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:41PM (#21525177)
        Well, if we had a show, let's say called, American Scientist, that worked like American Idol, then, they'd care!

        p/Just imagine that Simon guy saying, You call THAT data! Get out of here!"

      • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:56PM (#21525423)
        I work IT for a for profit research laboratory. We hire Lab Technicians with a BS at about $45,000 a year. When we hire PhD's it is for significantly more (although we haven't hired a new PhD since I started there, so I don't know what the going rate is for our post doc's). So those post doc's making less than $32,000 a year are either working at the wrong place or in the wrong field.
      • by Toonol (1057698) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:02PM (#21525499)
        If all scientists in the US... not just the NASA rocket scientists... stop working RIGHT NOW... the vast majority of the population won't know, and the majority of those who know, won't care.

        *Shrug* Who is John Galt?
    • What do they want to do when no one signs this? Fire every scientist? Not going to happen.

      Unfortunately more than 90% of the roughly 5000 employees at JPL have already signed. Only a few hundred are actively protesting, and 28 are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

      If the appeals court hadn't granted a preliminary injuction, they would already have lost their jobs. Despite the fact that they are irreplaceable, NASA would rather fire them rather than back down on these new invasions of privacy.
      • Re:Easy fix (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Stanislav_J (947290) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:48PM (#21525285)

        Unfortunately more than 90% of the roughly 5000 employees at JPL have already signed. Only a few hundred are actively protesting, and 28 are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

        We really have become a nation of sheep, haven't we? This is why our rights are going down the toilet, because most people simply do not care. It would be a vastly different story if that 90-10 ratio were reversed.

        This reminds me of an incident (I'm going entirely on memory here) in the months after 9/11 in which some jurisdiction or other was conducting random bag/backpack searches of bus passengers. One guy filed a suit after refusing the search and being hauled in. In the article, it said that out of something like 1300 of these searches that had been conducted, fewer than half a dozen people objected or refused. When the populace has become that complacent and trusting, it's open season on the Constitution.

        • Re:Easy fix (Score:4, Informative)

          by Gospodin (547743) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:02PM (#21525509)

          When the populace has become that complacent and trusting, it's open season on the Constitution.

          Oh, now it's open season on the Constitution, is it? Not when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Not when Wilson nationalized industries, jailed protestors, and created an income tax. Not when Roosevelt put citizens in concentration camps, set up price controls, and nationalized some more industries. Not when the Senate held hearings of suspected Communists in show business. No, now that 1300 people let police conduct 10-second bag checks, now the Constitution is going down in flames.

          Get some perspective.

          • Re:Easy fix (Score:5, Insightful)

            by gknoy (899301) <gknoy@anaLISPsaz ... m minus language> on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:06PM (#21525571)
            Perspective: Most people, when looking at those historical events (McCarthyism, etc) tend to recognize that it's a bad thing. When it's THEIR turn, however, people either don't realize what's happening until later, or don't want to bother making a fuss on constitutional principles if it will make them late for work (or if they feel it might endanger them to do so).
          • Re:Easy fix (Score:5, Informative)

            by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:25PM (#21525769) Journal

            Not when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus

            "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it" . The Southern States breaking away from the Union and firing on a Federal Fort sounds like "rebellion" to me.

            and created an income tax

            "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration"

            You won't get any argument out of me that the original intent behind the Constitution has been/is being subverted. My favorite example is the interstate commerce clause becoming a blank check for Congress to do whatever they want (like controlling what I can put into my own body as a consenting adult). But using the income tax and Lincoln as your examples doesn't seem very justifiable.

            Most of the examples I can think of (the Controlled Substances Act and the use of highway funding to blackmail state legislatures being the two that come to mind) are recent inventions.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Not when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.

            During a war, mind you. We haven't been at war for 60 years.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by chrismcb (983081)
          When I signed my contract for my current job, I noticed an odd discrepency. There were two clauses that were in outright contridiction to each other. I pointed this out, and refused to sign until it was fixed. The VP of the company finally got involved, and claimed I was only the second person out of thousands to say something. I was thinking well either you are hiring morons, or people who just don't care.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by turgid (580780)

      What do they want to do when no one signs this? Fire every scientist? Not going to happen.

      That sounds a lot like Collective Bargaining... That just proves these scientists are unionized PINKO COMMIES, probably terrorists, and deserve to be fired to make way for patriotic ones.

      Maybe the ESA will take them on for the Aurora project? /me ducks.

  • good for them (Score:4, Interesting)

    by trybywrench (584843) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:09PM (#21524705)
    Good for them for standing up. My bets are on NASA changing the policy. The people at JPL are irreplaceable in the short term. I would think it would take decades to replace a seasoned JPL engineer with a new comer. I'm sure NASA knows this and isn't about to fire a bunch right out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blueskies (525815)

      I'm sure NASA knows this and isn't about to fire a bunch right out.
      You have a lot of misplaced faith in gov't bureaucracies.
    • Re:good for them (Score:4, Informative)

      by gclef (96311) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:58PM (#21525445)
      NASA doesn't have a choice. HSPD12 (which is causing this) is a Presidential Directive (hence the "PD" in HSPD12). All Executive Branch agencies are required to comply.

      Now, whether HSPD12 itself is f'ing stupid is a whole other ball of wax.
      • Re:good for them (Score:5, Insightful)

        by vought (160908) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:24PM (#21525757)

        Now, whether HSPD12 itself is f'ing stupid is a whole other ball of wax.
        Based on the guidelines, George W. Bush would have been a high risk hire under HSPD-12. A drunk driving conviction, a history of alcohol abuse, and his penchant for being in charge of failed businesses would all have counted against him.

        But he's President, so he gets to mandate these requirements to people who just want to keep their personal lives private.
      • Re:good for them (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:28PM (#21525807)
        Even HSPD12 [whitehouse.gov] isn't that ridiculous. It states that it must be implemented consistent with 5 U.S.C. 552a [usdoj.gov], which if you read section (b), is completely incompatible with the NASA process being described.

        IANAL, but it sounds like there weren't any smart lawyers behind this idea anyway.
    • Re:good for them (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hxnwix (652290) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:03PM (#21525537) Journal

      it would take decades to replace a seasoned JPL engineer with a new comer. I'm sure NASA knows this and isn't about to fire a bunch right out.
      Considering the caliber [wikipedia.org] of the administrators and higher-ups appointed to NASA under the current administration, I am less sure of NASA's intentions. I expect that this move is intended to further sabotage NASA so that after some more accidents and lethargy, the administration has an excuse to "fix" the agency by defunding it some more and further packing it with 24 year old Bushies.

      A quick rule of thumb: in any case where the government does anything that appears to be directed by the W administration, you may divine an approximation of their real objectives if you remember that their intentions are always the opposite of what they say. Then allow for incompetency, ass covering and capricious political maneuvering as they work towards their objectives. Although the actual outcome will surprise you in its undesirability, it will at least surprise you less if you consider this simple razor...
  • Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by explosivejared (1186049) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (deraj.nagah)> on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:09PM (#21524711)
    All of this is done in the name of "protect[ing] personal privacy."

    If that doesn't shed light on the fact that this is complete and utter nonsense, I don't know what will. As the article pointed out, that's Newspeak if I ever heard it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by idontgno (624372)

      The problem isn't a nonsensical sentence.

      The problem is that you're using a faulty definition of "privacy". [arstechnica.com]

      The correct definition of privacy is "You divulge all the details of your life to the government, and the government protects it for you. From everyone. Except itself, of course. But you have nothing to fear from your government. After all, we're here to help you."

  • by phoebusQ (539940) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:11PM (#21524735)
    Having worked in the military and civilian worlds on sensitive and not-so-sensitive projects involving technology, this is not really news. This is a consequence of working with the government, and frankly, it doesn't bother me all that much.

    Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI. In the end, while maybe not ideal for the potential employee, I find nothing significantly reprehensible about the process.
    • by phoebusQ (539940) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:18PM (#21524851)
      Sorry for replying to myself, but I just wanted to add that I do still admire these folks for standing up to their employer. If they feel they are being taken advantage of, then they should go for it. Oh, and to the person who modded me troll, Troll != "I don't agree". Sigh.
    • by Yokaze (70883) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:20PM (#21524877)
      I think you missed several points:
      You applied for the FBI and had your past checked in matters and ways very likely specifically laid out to you once before you get hired.
      They already work for the government in non-sensitive areas and have to sign away their right on any privacy because of arbitrary unspecified background checks at will.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by VE3MTM (635378)
        Exactly. A while back I applied for a job at the Communications Security Establishment (Canada's equivalent of the US's NSA or the UK's GCHQ), which required top secret clearance. As you can imagine, this required extensive background checks. The important thing is that at any point I could walk away. It's not like they violate your privacy without your permission.

        The situation in the article, however, is different. These people already have their jobs (very senior ones too), and now they're expected to rev
    • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:23PM (#21524921) Journal
      Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI. In the end, while maybe not ideal for the potential employee, I find nothing significantly reprehensible about the process.

      Hmmmm.

      Let's see - Federal Bureau of Investigation. Investigates, what? Oh, CRIME, TERRORISM, stuff like that.

      And who? NASA? What are they doing? Just exploring the universe.

      Sorry - NASA and the FBI are completely different. What we are seeing is just another aspect of the creeping fascism in American life, and yet another example of why I left the Empire.

      And your offhand "Oh, this is no big deal" IDIOCY is just the exact kind of blithe ignorance that enables these fascist creeps in their unending grasp for power.

      And it is just that kind of blithe ignorance that forms Yet Another reason why I left the Empire.

      RS

      • by bkr1_2k (237627)
        Yet Another reason why I left the Empire.

        Whatever, Luke. You know he's your father right?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BlueMerle (1161489)

      Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI. In the end, while maybe not ideal for the potential employee, I find nothing significantly reprehensible about the process.

      Normally I tend to lean a little to the right on most issues, but this bothers me.

      It's one thing for this level of investigation for people in law enforcement, at any level, that have the right to arrest and detain people. And also have the right to shoot under certain circumstances.

      But for the rest of the go

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:51PM (#21525325)
      (insert standard diatribe about clueless slashdot editors and even-more-clueless slashdot readers/commentors)

      1. JPL is not the government
      2. the scientists this would have applied to are the subset of JPL employees who do not work with classified material
      3. many of this subset of JPL employees specifically elected years ago not to work with classified material because they didn't want to go through the clearance processes
      4. all the way back in October the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit blocked (URL:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/06/AR2007100601372.html/) this directive thereby obsolescing the portion of submitter's summary claim that these scientists were in danger of being fired at any moment for not having signed the permission slips by the due date.
    • by gentlemen_loser (817960) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:18PM (#21525701) Homepage
      Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI.

      Yes, I would. Having worked in a similar environment (to the JPL folks) for the federal government, I am quiet familiar with the background checks that you went through. The issue is that since 9/11, our government has gone "secret happy". NASA is a civilian agency and most NASA missions are unclassified and in the public domain, like this one (CloudSat). [colostate.edu] There is quite simply no good reason that the scientists and engineers working on that mission (and others like it) need to be cleared. More importantly, science not directly related to defense belongs in the public domain. To remove it stifles innovation, creativity, and education.

      Where would you draw the line? Would you start requiring background checks to go to college? Perhaps a basic background check for Physics 101 and a full secret clearance for Nuclear Physics? Following that train of thought, in the name of defense, would we start doing background checks (and clearing) workers in the financial industry? After all, an attack on that sector could cripple the country as well. As a quick aside, the baby background checks we all already go through to get jobs (criminal history, credit, etc.) are childsplay compared to what is required for a clearance. As such, there is no comparison. Back to my point, though. Following in the same vein, would we then require extensive background checks for all public sector IT workers/software engineers, in the name of security?

      The reason the government can get away with the invasion of privacy is because smaller groups are targeted. That is, its fairly easy for someone to say "Yes, but since they work for the feds, they have no privacy...". However, it is not that simple. The government should be critically looking at the projects and missions of the organizations that they are requiring to go through these investigations. If it is REALLY needed, as it would be for the creation of defensive capabilities and intelligence gathering, by all means - require an investigation and clearance. If it is NOT really needed, as is likely the case with the JPL engineers in question, all the government is doing is expanding its powers and wasting your tax dollars (as getting cleared is an expensive proposition).
    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:21PM (#21525721)

      Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI.

      Ironically, the FBI might not even exist today if its illustrious founder had been subject to these same background checks.

    • ...to behave like the military. What you seem to be saying is that you're making money off of both areas, so it doesn't matter to you if the government becomes fascist.

    • by DM9290 (797337) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @08:45PM (#21526707) Journal
      "Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI. In the end, while maybe not ideal for the potential employee, I find nothing significantly reprehensible about the process."

      Of course you didnt. Firstly, you hadn't already been working there for 15 years. Secondly, most people who want to be cops *love* authority. They love to see it being exercised. They love to see the "bad guy" get "taken down". And "bad guy" includes people who smoke a joint or 2 now then and have never lifted a finger to hurt anyone in their life.

      Did you notice you were applying for a job with the police?? That's what they do. take down bad guys, beat up protestors and direct traffic. wear body armour and sunglasses and carry big guns. hell.. and tase people for not obeying them fast enough.

      Doesn't the FBI specifically want to hire people who see nothing wrong with slavish obedience to regulations with a disconnected conception of what the word 'freedom' means. (specifically it means the freedom to act without interference from other human beings). Don't Cops spend all day following orders, and complying with regulations. Is freedom of thought something they want to encourage. Some cops work in prisons.. can you believe that? who would EVER want to work in a prison???

      You take it for granted that the government is doesn't need to respect civil liberties. You probably think the government Giveth and the government can taketh away. You think that is normal and necessary for any society to exist. I'll assume your motives are good. But such a police state was not the idea behind the founding of America. Try reading the declaration of independence.

      But long story short... you weren't working for 15 years when your boss suddenly came in and saying "I no longer trust you because George Bush said so. Either you voluntarily waive your civil liberties, or else you lose your job, your home, your kids education, and start your entire life over again. Don't sweat it. It's voluntary".

      human beings build relationships of trust. if the people you have been working with suddenly stop trusting you it feels like you are being punished. And if you did nothing wrong, it feels very humiliating and oppressive. maybe you see nothing wrong with humiliating and oppressing people. But then again.. what agency did you say you work for?

  • by Lucas123 (935744) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:12PM (#21524753) Homepage
    I mean, background checks like this probably would have exluded most of the scientists who came over from Germany for the Manhattan Project.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blueZhift (652272)
      I mean, background checks like this probably would have exluded most of the scientists who came over from Germany for the Manhattan Project.

      Exactly! Creative types like scientists and engineers probably tend to have less than conventional personal lives. I really don't think anyone needs to go poking into that and so killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sarahbau (692647)
      Not to mention Wernher von Braun, who was largely responsible for NASA's early success.
  • by Facetious (710885) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:13PM (#21524757) Journal
    When I was a young man I had, like many kids, aspirations of becoming an astronaut or otherwise working in the space exploration industry. My goals began to change as I watched NASA go from the world's best research agency (IMHO) to a politically correct institution lacking any cohesive vision.
  • by palladiate (1018086) <palladiate.gmail@com> on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:17PM (#21524833)
    As an expert at abusive management during the failing days at Krispy Kreme, this sounds like they want the employees to quit. I've seen this happen too many times.

    Say, if I was really callous and sociopathic, and I wanted to scale back operations and cut costs, I wouldn't fire or lay off anyone. I would require the employees to do things they wouldn't tolerate, but seem "necessary and proper" for their jobs. I'd switch reporting to 4:00am so that reports would be ready for management, give 3 hour lunches to people who live too far away to commute home for lunch, or other highly inconvenient tasks or requirements.

    When they quit, you didn't have to report to investors you were scaling back operations, just that you couldn't fill the positions. Then you could cut the positions and claim better productivity.

    If I wanted to scale NASA's budget back, and not catch tons of flak, I would do this. When the researchers refused to comply, I could just say "They're a security risk, we're all about security after 9/11, so you can't work on 90% of projects." When they quit, or I fired them for not complying, I could just say "We have a shortage of qualified engineers, we can't fill these positions."

    And when nobody cared anymore, I'd scale back operations and cut the positions, shrinking the budget. It's a great way to handle a budget crisis and cut without making it look like one.
    • Heh. Callous management. You should check out Snakes in Suits (http://www.amazon.com/Snakes-Suits-When-Psychopaths-Work/dp/0061147893/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196375725&sr=8-1) - its about psychopaths in management. Apparently they are ~3 times as common in executive as in the population at large...
    • A distasteful but accurate name for this strategy is called the "Kevorkian."
    • by vitaflo (20507) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:02PM (#21525505) Homepage
      As an expert at abusive management during the failing days at Krispy Kreme, this sounds like they want the employees to quit. I've seen this happen too many times.

      The people who quit in situations like this are your best employees. The ones who aren't afraid to lose their jobs because they're good enough to work just about anywhere. The ones you're left with are the people who are afraid they have no other options and will take it up the ass just to keep a job. It's not a smart way to run a company, unless you want to run it into the ground.
  • What if (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alexx K (1167919) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:18PM (#21524853)

    Why are these investigations even needed? I mean, will he be fired, for example, if Joe Scientist is gay? Libertarian? Doesn't read the bible? Anti-bush? Anti-war? Prefers german Cars? Doesn't believe in Santa Claus? Prefers Pepsi? Etc.

    • Blackmail (Score:3, Informative)

      by noldrin (635339)
      The reason they want to know if you are gay is they want to determine if you are hiding anything that someone could use as blackmail against you. If you say in the interview that you are not gay, and they find evidence saying you are gay, then they will fear that someone could blackmail secrets out of you. On the other hand you say that you are gay and they find evidence that you are gay, then that isn't a national security threat as no one can blackmail you.

      The problem is that the Bush-Ashcroft era had

  • Of course, the background checks are being conducted by his old bosses.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:22PM (#21524905)

    Some likely things that would be found among these 28:

    7 are having electronic-only relationships or affairs in a MMORPG
    3 are furries
    2 use slide rules when planning their order at McDonald's
    4 only wear glasses in public and at work (to look smarter)
    5 Either dance or do karaoke very badly
    1 wears diapers (but only for play)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism [wikipedia.org] - but who are we afraid of now? 50 years later? Some Taliban "freedom fighter" adding an IED to the next Mars Rover?

    Gimme a break.
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:35PM (#21525093)
    28 senior NASA scientists and engineers, including Mars Rover team members, all updated the "foes" section of their Facebook profile this afternoon.
  • by hackus (159037)
    I would like to remind everyone here that NASA is NOT a civilian space agency, it a branch of the Department of Defense and if you read the charter you shouldn't be surprised at all about this.

    Why do people apply for jobs at a organization, and yet have NO CLUE about who they are working for?

    -Hack
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by phoebusQ (539940)
      You mean this part of the charter?

      "The Congress further declares that such activities shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, a civilian agency exercising control over aeronautical and space activities sponsored by the United States, except that activities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States (including the research and development necessary to make effective provision for the defense of the U
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ChrisA90278 (905188)
      "..Why do people apply for jobs at a organization, and yet have NO CLUE about who they are working for?.."

      JPL is not NASA. Got that. If you work for JPL you are not a NASA emplyee.

      The following is a quote from the JPL web site.

      JPL is a NASA center staffed and managed for the government by a leading private university, Caltech -- and thus we are known as a federally funded research and development center. I believe that this marriage of the government and university worlds lends us a wonderful intellectual
  • by no-body (127863)
    it's essentailly 1984 ** 10

    If this kind of crap is going on, the country will snap!

    About 50 years ago, it was Russia in top repression, searching people's luggage entering their borders, secrete police on the next corne; now US is severely going there and Russia is coming up again - not even talking about muslim countries, Far East or South America.

    Maybe it's global warming heating some heads too much so they start to malfunction.

    Freedom? Yukk, my ass!
  • They're probably trying to avoid a repeat of the whole "astronaut with diapers travels 1,000 miles to beat up other astronaut's lover" fiasco, which itself was misreported to the hills. This would not be the best way to go about it — sanity is one of those things that you can probably assume (to the point that they can still function in their job) for 99.5% of the general population.
  • So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bkr1_2k (237627) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @06:50PM (#21525307)
    Welcome to the world of security clearances. NASA routinely works on things that have a sensitive nature, if for no other reason than "technology export concerns". Why is this even news?
  • Good for the ESA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:12PM (#21525643)

    and are now subject to being fired despite a decade or more of exemplary service.

    Awesome idea! Do away with your best hires because of some silly policy, and wait for foreign space agencies to hire them for their uncommon expertise, experience and insight! If there's something that we've learn during the past years, it's that loyalty and malleability are far more important than competence anyways!

  • by drDugan (219551) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @07:55PM (#21526151) Homepage
    Decide for yourself what this is all about. The intent of the process becomes clearer when you read the form in question.

    http://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/SF85.pdf [opm.gov]

    INSTRUCTIONS
    --------

    Purpose of this Form
    The U.S. Government conducts background investigations to establish
    that applicants or incumbents either employed by the Government or
    working for the Government under contract, are suitable for the job.
    Information from this form is used primarily as the basis for this
    investigation. Complete this form only after a conditional offer of
    employment has been made.
    Giving us the information we ask for is voluntary. However, we may
    not be able to complete your investigation, or complete it in a timely
    manner, if you dont give us each item of information we request. This
    may affect your placement or employment prospects.

    Authority to Request this Information
    The U.S. Government is authorized to ask for this information under
    Executive Order 10577, sections 3301 and 3302 of title 5, U.S. Code;
    and parts 5, 731, and 736 of Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations.
    Your Social Security Number is needed to keep records accurate,
    because other people may have the same name and birth date. Executive
    Order 9397 also asks Federal agencies to use this number to help
    identify individuals in agency records.

    The Investigative Process
    Background investigations are conducted using your responses on this
    form and on your Declaration for Federal Employment (OF 306) to
    develop information to show whether you are reliable, trustworthy, and
    of good conduct and character. Your current employer must be
    contacted as part of the investigation, even if you have previously
    indicated on applications or other forms that you do not want this.

    Instructions for Completing this Form
    1. Follow the instructions given to you by the person who gave you the
    form and any other clarifying instructions furnished by that person to
    assist you in completion of the form. Find out how many copies of the
    form you are to turn in. You must sign and date, in black ink, the
    original and each copy you submit.

    2. Type or legibly print your answers in black ink (if your form is not
    legible, it will not be accepted). You may also be asked to submit your
    form in an approved electronic format.
    3. All questions on this form must be answered. If no response is
    necessary or applicable, indicate this on the form (for example, enter
    "None" or "N/A"). If you find that you cannot report an exact date,
    approximate or estimate the date to the best of your ability and indicate
    this by marking "APPROX." or "EST."
    4. Any changes that you make to this form after you sign it must be
    initialed and dated by you. Under certain limited circumstances,
    agencies may modify the form consistent with your intent.
    5. You must use the State codes (abbreviations) listed on the back of
    this page when you fill out this form. Do not abbreviate the names of
    cities or foreign countries.
    6. The 5-digit postal ZIP codes are needed to speed the processing of
    your investigation. The office that provided the form will assist you in
    completing the ZIP codes.
    7. All telephone numbers must include area codes.
    8. All dates provided on this form must be in Month/Day/Year or
    Month/Year format. Use numbers (1-12) to indicate months. For
    example, June 10, 1978, should be shown as 6/10/78.
    9. Whenever "City (Country)" is shown in an address block, also
    provide in that block the name of the country when the address is
    outside the United States.
    10. If you need additional space to list your residences or
    employments/self-employments/unemployment or education, you
    should use a continuation sheet, SF 86A. If additional space is needed
    to answer other items, use a blank piece of paper. Each blank piece of
    paper you use must contain your name and Social Secu
  • Can you still get in if you have a history of working for despotic regimes, membership of far right political organisations, links to slavery and forced labour and previous employment developing terror weapons?

Uncompensated overtime? Just Say No.

Working...