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JPL Scientists Take NASA To the Supreme Court 238

Posted by timothy
from the ask-kozinksi dept.
CheshireCatCO writes "Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, concerned about background checks now required of federal employees, sued NASA to suspend the checks back in 2007. The case has now worked its way up to the Supreme Court. At stake: whether all federal employees can be forced to undergo open-ended background checks whether or not the employee has exposure to classified or sensitive information. The background checks, which can include interviewing people from employees' pasts such as landlords and teachers, may seek, among other things, sexual histories."
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JPL Scientists Take NASA To the Supreme Court

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  • It's about blackmail (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 25, 2010 @07:45PM (#33700008)

    The "sexual history" questions will unfortunately remain relevant in background checks for highly important/secret positions so long as sexual history related topics remain highly taboo in society. The (intended) purpose of these questions is to determine if the applicant has anything in their past that would make particularly them subjective to blackmail.

    They leave a bad taste in my mouth too, which is why I avoid those sorts of jobs...

  • by unixan (800014) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @07:52PM (#33700072)

    At stake: whether all federal employees can be forced to undergo open-ended background checks

    Really? I don't see that in the questions being answered by the supreme court. [supremecourt.gov]

  • I'd be perfect (Score:2, Informative)

    by JeanBaptiste (537955) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:21PM (#33700226)

    My sexual history fits on a post-it note.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:32PM (#33700284)

    Background checks are reasonable for extremely sensitive positions that require top secret security clearance, for example spies.

    But JPL employees do not! JPL is not part of the military or even NASA, it is a branch of California Institute of Technology. These employees do not work on classified projects, and they do not require any security clearance.

    Just because your paycheck comes from the government, does not mean that they should have the right to dig in your personal life.

  • Suitability Matrix (Score:4, Informative)

    by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @09:02PM (#33700424) Homepage

    By the way, here's a copy of the suitability matrix [hspd12jpl.org].

  • Re:idiots (Score:4, Informative)

    by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @10:22PM (#33700744) Homepage

    Everyone is put through normal background checks that should turn up things like "axe murder". And everyone is also at least obligated to pee in the cup if asked to. (I'm not sure if JPL runs randomized screening or just waits for probable cause.) But unless IBM is digging unusually deeply, your sexual history wasn't consider, nor were the histories of your friends and family. That's what's being disputed here.

    Also, note that the scientists in question do no work on "gigantic bombs" or even on the rockets. They work on the robot probes which are in the vicinity of entirely different planets. There isn't much that they can to do you, even if they do snap and decide to hijack the probe. There's also very little that they know that any foreign government would pay for, in as much as said governments could wait a few months for the publication of the findings anyway.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @10:29PM (#33700768) Homepage Journal

    That has been the policy since the 80s when I had to get clearance.
    I was only 19 at the time and working for a contractor in college. It was interesting. They had to interview my girlfriend and her parents.
    Yes if you are going to be in that situation you can not have any secrets. Frankly nothing will change that. If you want to do that kind of work you have to deal with it.
    Just like you can not work as construction worker on a high rise if you are terrified of heights.

  • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @10:30PM (#33700774)

    No. I work at JPL. I've done classified work before. Just because I have done it in the past or might in the future implies nothing about whether I should have a background check for my current job. If I were to do classified work in my current job, I would need to regain my clearance. This is the same as if I decided to go work minimum wage at a fast food chain then went back to classified work.

    Though I dont care for my own sake, since I've already gone through it for legitimate reasons, making all employees here go through it is absurd. My best understanding (I started well after they stopped issuing the badges, so I'm not certain of the details) is that it was an unassuming attempt to put a generic federal badging procedure, which normally applies to DOD contractors, for which the background check makes sense. However it should not apply to JPL or other NASA centers, and to me this lawsuit is against the idea that more security is always necessarily better, and should be applied without consideration for the civil liberties of federal contractors.

  • Re:Go JPL (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2010 @11:29PM (#33700976)
    How quickly people forget that the Clinton Administration spent the eight years prior to Bush saying that Iraq had and active WMD program and massive stockpiles.

    How quickly people forget that there were WMD, just not the massive stockpiles or active program, but then again Iraq had months in which to dismantle and hide most the stuff. And we've had troops injured if not killed by IEDs made with chemical rounds.

    If you want us to remember stuff, you yourself need to remember all the details; not just the ones that make the other guy look bad.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2010 @11:35PM (#33700996)

    Obama before he was elected made his opinions on warrantless wiretapping known.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barack-obama/my-position-on-fisa_b_110789.html

    And what do you mean by defending Bush Administration policies? Obama, on his second day of office, issued several executive orders that outlaw torture and extraordinary rendition policies.

    http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/2009-obama.html

    Obama is not the same as the Old Boss. Educate yourself.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 26, 2010 @01:24AM (#33701364)

    Wow... What right does the government have to ask these kind of questions to non-government research employees? I just read the presidential directive (http://www.hspd12jpl.org/files/hspd-12.doc). All it was asking for was to have a standard for secure and reliable form of identification, not the Spanish Inquisition.

    "Therefore, it is the policy of the United States to enhance security, increase Government efficiency, reduce identity fraud, and protect personal privacy by establishing a mandatory, Government-wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification issued by the Federal Government to its employees and contractors (including contractor employees"

    I also expect that JPL did the proper background checks when they originally hired the employees.

  • Re:Go JPL (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 26, 2010 @01:47AM (#33701420)

    All of your previous points were spot on. But name one, single regulation that Bush either blocked or repealed that led to the economic mess. Just one. I'll wait.

    You've tried to redefine the original statement - he didn't say block or repeal - he said revulsion to regulation. Simple inaction in response to changing circumstances qualifies - including starving regulatory agencies of resources. For example SEC funding was essentially unchanged from 2004 to 2009 [leasingnews.org] despite a significant increase in the number of players and transactions in the purview of SEC oversight.

  • How you can help (Score:5, Informative)

    by ScottMaxwell (108831) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @03:28AM (#33701740) Homepage

    As a named plaintiff in this lawsuit, I'm awfully happy to see the widespread support here on Slashdot. I'd like to be able to keep driving Mars rovers around without having to sign a form that says NASA can interrogate my priest, my doctor, my lawyer, my accountant, and my ISP to make sure I'm sufficiently uninteresting.

    If you'd like to help, please consider donating [hspd12jpl.org] to keep our amazing legal team afloat. The privacy you save could be your own. Thank you!

  • Re:How you can help (Score:5, Informative)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Sunday September 26, 2010 @11:22AM (#33703420) Homepage

    An important thing to note is that the administration lied about the background checks. They stated that invasive personal background checks were required by a presidential directive called "HSPD-12". This, as it turns out, is incorrect.

    The full text of HSPD-12 [dhs.gov] is available on the web. In fact, what it says is that the government identification cards should be difficult to forge. As a part of that, it said that the government should verify the identification of its employees before issuing identification cards. That's it. The only background check required it "check their ID."

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