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NASA Privacy Security Science

US Supreme Court Says NASA Background Checks OK 172

coondoggie writes "In a long-running dispute about privacy and security, the US Supreme Court today sided with NASA saying its background checks were not invasive and that the information required for not only NASA but most government positions was a reasonable security precaution and that sufficient privacy safeguards existed to prevent any improper disclosures. You may recall that in this case, 28 scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory filed suit against the US government and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2007 saying that NASA's invasive background investigations as required by government regulations [inappropriately violate workers' privacy]."
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US Supreme Court Says NASA Background Checks OK

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  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @05:34PM (#34932802)
    Sort of, some were ex-Nazis, but point taken. That was the whole point of operation paperclip. [wikipedia.org]
  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @08:21PM (#34934522)

    Aren't people animals?

    Most sadly are not animals in bed. At least not the ones I've been with.

    I think GP's example question maybe was supposed to be "barnyard animals."

  • by bware ( 148533 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @09:01PM (#34934816) Homepage

    Caltech/JPL employees don't work on the shuttle. No one was objecting to clearances for anyone who needs one. The objection was to an open-ended background check for jobs that don't deal with sensitive data or need a clearance. The folks who do that had to get clearance anyway. The Soops just pretty much said that if you get paid by the government in any way, shape, or form, even twice removed, the government has the right, nay the duty, to investigate your background. For instance, JPL employees are not government employees: they work for Caltech (once-removed). And JPL contractors don't work for JPL, they get paid by their contracting firm (twice-removed).

    Again, JPL employees typically don't deal with classified or sensitive data; most NASA data and inventions are required by law to be released to the public eventually (pick up a copy of NASA Tech Briefs sometime). This will propagate; the DOE doesn't have to do this now, but they will. As will the DOT and DOEducation, and every other government organization and contractor. How many of you will be free from this? How many of your jobs depend on government money at some stage?

    Not in the headline is Scalia's concurring opinion, where he comes right out and says that there is no right to informational privacy. Good luck with that too.

    Adios, Fourth Amendment.

  • A plaintiff's view (Score:5, Informative)

    by ScottMaxwell ( 108831 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @09:05PM (#34934844) Homepage

    (Disclaimer: I'm a named plaintiff in this lawsuit.)

    I'm only about halfway through the ruling, but it's hard for me to know where to begin criticizing it. Here are some choice bits:

    * The ruling says that we shouldn't be worried because the government promises to protect our privacy. That's fatally absurd in the era of Wikileaks: if the government can't keep its own secrets secret, what are the odds that it'll keep my secrets secret?

    * The ruling says that the government needn't show that its questions must be crafted as narrowly as possible to further its interests. This seems to ignore an interesting distinction between the government and private employers: the government can now ask you anything it wants, and jail you if it doesn't like the answers. Worse, the government can change its mind about what you get in trouble for, as a lot of people discovered unpleasantly in the 1950s, so something that's perfectly safe to admit now can get you in trouble a decade from now.

    * It's a special irony that Justice Thomas held (in a minority view) that there's no right to informational privacy at all. (Fortunately, the majority explicitly refused to rule on that point.) Perhaps Justice Thomas would like to tell us what really went on between him and Anita Hill, then? Or maybe privacy is good for the gander, in his view, but not so much for the goose.

    * Remember that this ruling is only on a preliminary injunction. We haven't even gone to trial yet. The legal system is as intricate as only a centuries-old piece of code can be, and we have a long way to go yet. (Contrary to a highly misleading internal all-hands JPL email message issued after the ruling, incidentally.)

    I have lots more to say, but I'm going to meet with our lawyers now. Grr.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.