- SPACE.com Staff, "Scientists Demand Retraction From Gov't Attorney In NASA Privacy Case." Space.com,
October 8, 2010,
Lead plaintiff and JPL scientist Robert Nelson wrote letters to Attorney General Eric
Holder and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Oct. 7 requesting that Holder order a
retraction of the remarks and issue a public correction, according to a statement released by Nelson.
According to the scientists, Katyal said: "And the even more important point about
this is the badge that the plaintiffs are seeking access to don't – doesn't just
give them access to JPL. It will also give them other access to all other NASA
facilities. And it's such an important credential that it would allow them to get within,
for example, 6 to 10 feet of the space shuttle as it is being repaired and readied
for launch. So this is a credential not just for JPL and getting onto JPL, but other places as well."
But JPL badges do not provide such broad access, the scientists responded.
- Robert Barnes, "Court debates privacy rights, government's role as employer." The Washington Post,
October 6, 2010,
The Supreme Court seemed disinclined on Tuesday to impose strict limits on how
the federal government can investigate the backgrounds of contractors seeking work,
but the justices were more split over what a constitutional right to privacy protects.
The court recognized the right to "informational privacy" in the 1970s but has done little to
clarify what it means. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy acknowledged during Tuesday's oral arguments
that decades later, it remains "somewhat ill-defined or undefined."
Acting Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal agreed but said the case before the court
is not the place to explore it.
- Dennis V. Byrnes, "The moon, Mars and now the Supreme Court."
Los Angeles Times,
October 5, 2010,
I am the chief engineer for flight mechanics at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a
NASA center operated under federal government contract by the California Institute
of Technology. My responsibilities include technical oversight and review of all
aspects of spacecraft dynamics, trajectory design, mission design and navigation
for all missions at JPL from the earliest studies to the completion of flight
operations. I also serve on several review boards for other NASA missions outside
of JPL. But today, I will be at the Supreme Court listening
to my lawyer argue against the acting solicitor general of the United States.
I am not a civil servant. My duties do not include classified or sensitive work of any kind.
The results of my work are publicly available. The scientific results of missions that
I work on are publicly available on various JPL and NASA websites, sometimes just
minutes after scientists receive the data from the spacecraft. As is
the case with 97% of the people who work at JPL, NASA deems my position "low-risk."
I want to be very clear. Neither I nor any of the plaintiffs have anything to hide.
I care nothing for my personal privacy. I care for the terrible damage being done
to the guarantees of our Constitution. I care for the loss of trust most of us
once had in our government. I care that the longstanding trust and collegiality
between engineers and scientists at JPL and their management is being destroyed
and replaced by a poisoned atmosphere of mistrust by employees and heavy-handed
paternalism by management. I care that all across the country, many talented
technical people will leave government service or choose not to apply in the
first place because of this unwarranted assault on their constitutional freedoms.
I fear that carried to its natural end, this process, with its false promise
of national security at the expense of freedom, will forever damage our country.
- BETH SUMMERS, "Inside the Supreme Court: Marcia Coyle on NASA Background Checks Case."
October 5, 2010,
What are the potential impacts of this decision? Who would be affected?
MARCIA COYLE: The case has drawn a lot of attention from civil-rights groups and groups
involved with electronic information, as well as groups that represent private employees
and employers. They all will be watching to see if the court gives any guidance on the
kind of information
that potential employees may be required to give up if they want a particular job.
- Warren Richey, "Supreme Court weighs need for background checks for NASA scientists." The Christian Science Monitor,
October 5, 2010,
Pasadena lawyer Dan Stormer told the high court that government contractors like his clients,
who perform "low-risk" work, should not have to face intrusive questioning about drug treatment
or counseling simply to qualify for a government-issued ID badge.
At issue in the case is whether the government violates the JPL workers' constitutional right to
informational privacy when they are told that they must agree to answer all the government's
questions or lose their jobs.
In addition to the usual identifying information, the questionnaires sought details of any
illegal drug use in the past year and any involvement in drug treatment or counseling programs.
The process also authorized investigators to ask neighbors and others for adverse information
about violations of the law, financial integrity, drug or alcohol abuse, mental or emotional
stability, general behavior, or other matters.
Stormer said applying the background checks to scientists at JPL is overkill. He said it was a
badge procedure for low-risk employees in a campus-like atmosphere.
"Does Al Qaeda know this," Justice Antonin Scalia quipped.
"It wouldn't matter," Stormer replied. The researchers are engaged in open source,
Katyal disputed this. He said the research at JPL is scientifically sensitive and that a
JPL badge could gain its holder access to every NASA facility,
including a position six to 10 feet from the space shuttle prior to launch.
- Joan Biskupic, "High court hears scientists' challenge to background checks." USA Today,
October 5, 2010,
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, among the most skeptical
of the government's position, asked whether the government's questions can be limited.
"Could you ask somebody, what's your genetic makeup, because we don't want people with a
gene that is predisposed to cancer?" she asked.
Katyal resisted the question, saying the government could ask a range of questions as long
as it did not disclose the information.
- ADAM LIPTAK, "Challenge to Background Checks Falters." The New York Times,
October 5, 2010,
WASHINGTON — Scientists at a California research facility appeared likely to
lose their challenge to background checks required by a Bush administration
antiterrorism initiative, judging from
the justices' questions on Tuesday during arguments at the Supreme Court.
- Eugenie Samuel Reich, "NASA privacy case goes to highest court." Nature,
October 5, 2010,
In a brief supporting the scientists, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in
Washington DC argues that the case could set a precedent that would allow similarly
open-ended investigations of any scientist who needs access to federal facilities
or who is applying for federal grant money. "We were concerned that this was
impacting some people's ability to do research," says AAS president Debra Elmegreen,
an astronomer at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Kurt Gottfried, an emeritus
professor of physics at Cornell University and a UCS board member, told the press
conference that the Obama administration was taking essentially the same approach
to national security as that of Bush. "This policy will set a harmful precedent. It will
make it much more difficult to retain and attract top scientific staff," he said.
- Mark Betancourt, "NASA v. The Scientists." Air & Space Smithsonian,
September 24, 2010,
The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case have two problems with the background checks. First, that they have to
submit to them at all. Many JPL researchers have been working at the lab for decades. Security has never
been an issue, and personal background checks—beyond supplying routine
application information and employment verification when they first took their jobs—have never been required before.
The second, larger concern is that the background checks are essentially limitless. Third parties like former
landlords and employers are encouraged by investigators to
provide any information, "derogatory as well as positive," that they feel might affect the employee's
suitability to work for the government.
Several organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Civil Liberties Union,
have weighed in on the JPL employees’ side. In a friend of the court brief, the American Astronomical
Society said, "A significant number of U.S. astronomers would be or are unwilling to work in an environment
where they are subject to the intrusive, open-ended background investigations at issue here." A decision
against the JPL scientists
"would diminish the likelihood that uniquely talented individuals would work on
specific projects, to the detriment of our nation."
- Anita Susan Brenner, "Background checks not worth $6 million." La Canada Valley Sun,
September 22, 2010,
On Oct. 5, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in National Aeronautics and Space Administration v. Nelson, the JPL background check "informational privacy" case.
There are no guidelines for maintenance of the information obtained by the investigators. Maybe everyone should just join Facebook and blog every ten minutes. That might be simpler.
And it would cost less than the $6 million budgeted by JPL.
If we put our brains together, we might come up with some alternative uses for the $6 million. Cancer research? Superfund clean up?
- Adam Liptak, "SUPREME COURT ROUNDUP." The New York Times,
March 8, 2010,
The court [...] agreed to decide whether a 2004 Bush administration antiterrorism initiative violated the privacy rights of scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a research facility operated by the California Institute of Technology under a contract with NASA.
- Adam Liptak, "The Turducken Approach to Privacy Law." The New York Times,
December 7, 2009,
The dissenter was Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Court of Appeals for the
Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco. He is a master of the dissent that might as well be a
petition for Supreme Court review of the majority's decision.
This one, protesting his court's refusal to rehear a case about the privacy rights of
employees, said the law in that area had become a tangled thicket.
"It's time to clear the brush," Judge Kozinski wrote. "We didn't undertake that
chore today, but we'll have to sooner or later, unless" - nudge, nudge - "the Supreme Court should intervene."
Last month, the federal government took the hint and asked the Supreme
Court to hear the case. Between the dissent and the government's
excellent track record in persuading the court to hear its appeals,
it is a very good bet that the court will soon be dining on turducken.
- Tim Rutten, "Lift the cloud over JPL." Los Angeles Times,
November 14, 2009,
The Obama administration should drop an ill-conceived security policy for the famed space lab.
Those great adventures are run from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.
And for that reason, when history comes to honor the starting points from which our greatest
enterprises of discovery have set out, it will reckon JPL's quiet, green campus on the edge
of the Arroyo Seco alongside the courts of Castile and Henry the Navigator, the Dutch
Republic and Elizabethan London.
At least it will unless the Obama administration succeeds in completing President George W. Bush's
reckless and wasteful attempt to impose a draconian new security regimen on JPL's civilian
scientists and engineers, a step that would not only infringe their rights to privacy but
subvert the lab's role as one of the foremost centers of open science.
- Emma Gallegos, "JPL employees criticize government for pursuing background checks." Pasadena Star-News,
November 11, 2009, http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/ci_13766434.
JPL employees Wednesday criticized federal authorities for seeking a U.S.
Supreme Court review of an appeals court decision blocking the government from requiring mandatory background checks.
Robert Nelson, a JPL scientist and the lead plaintiff in the case, said he was disappointed by the
government's decision to pursue the case to the Supreme Court level.
"We particularly had hoped that the Obama administration would take a closer
look at the unwise national security decrees of his predecessor," Nelson said.
In June, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its previous ruling from January of 2008,
which granted JPL employees an injunction against having to submit to background checks to continue their employment.
- Dan Abendschein, "JPL background check case could be heard in Supreme Court." Pasadena Star-News,
November 10, 2009, http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/ci_13757572.
A case over whether the government can require Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees to
submit to background checks could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, sources said Tuesday.
The U.S. Solicitor General's office has filed a request asking the nation's
highest court to review a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The panel ruled in favor of the 28 JPL employees who said their rights were
infringed upon by required ongoing background checks.
The governments' attorneys have argued that the case would set a p
recedent that would destroy its ability to do background checks on federal employees.
Joe Piasecki, "Barack, don't do it." Pasadena Weekly,
June 11, 2009,
JPL employees who won privacy rights court battle ask the White House to let that ruling stand.
Constitutional law expert Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, praised the majority's findings.
The decision "is a very important one in terms of recognizing both informational privacy and the need to limit the
government's right to gather information about people unnecessarily," he said. "The government can't be asking
for information from people unrelated to its legitimate interest."
Attorney Stephen Rohde, the newly elected chair of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California,
said the decision upholds privacy as one of the "unenumerated rights" protected by the 9th Amendment.
"Let's not forget that our history is littered with examples of government seriously intruding on the private lives
of individuals with catastrophic results. Once government collects information there's no telling in whose hands
that information will land and for what purposes - intended or unintended - the information will be used," said Rohde.
Tim Rutten, "OPINION: Give JPL workers their space," Los Angeles Times,
June 6, 2009,
Atty. Gen. Eric Holder should abandon the Bush-Cheney administration's effort
to intrude into the private lives of the lab's scientists.
Of all the wreckage the Bush-Cheney administration left behind, nothing is more toxic
than its wanton exploitation of popular anxiety after 9/11 to undermine basic civil
liberties, and particularly the right to privacy.
These days, the whole country seems to be awash in second thoughts about everything from torture
to warrantless eavesdropping. But back then, only a handful of stubbornly courageous people
stood up when it was most perilous to resist and opposed the government's fear-greased slide
toward authoritarianism. Among the most unlikely and the most significant were the scientists
at La Cañada Flintridge's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who sued the government to block its
attempt to coerce them into agreeing
to unconscionable intrusions into their private lives as the price of keeping their jobs.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. now has 60 days to decide whether to appeal the 9th Circuit's
ruling to the Supreme Court. As Dan Stormer, one of the lawyers representing the JPL
scientists, put it: "This really is a gut check for the Obama administration on privacy
issues. No other administration ever has gone as far in invading
the privacy of U.S. citizens, and it would be shocking if Holder proceeds with this."
Sarah Sorscher, "Review of NASA Security Regulations Denied." Harvard Journal of Law&Technology,
June 6, 2009,
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise reports that on
Thursday the Ninth Circuit declined to review
en banc a
privacy case involving employees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a part of NASA.
A three-judge panel of the appellate court had previously ruled that NASA's mandatory
background checks threatened workers' constitutional right to privacy. The petition for
rehearing generated a plethora of concurring and dissenting opinions, including an
by the appellate court concurring in the denial that referred to the background check as a
"free-floating, wide-ranging inquiry with no standards, limits, or guarantee of non-disclosure to third parties."
Three opinions dissenting from the rehearing en banc are available here,
The JPL employees have also created a website voicing their opposition to the background checks.
John Schwartz, "Background Checks Blocked at NASA Lab," New York Times,
June 5, 2009,
Dan Stormer, a lawyer for the scientists, called the decision "a defeat for the policies
of the Bush administration, whose overreaching and whose
willingness to ignore constitutional protections are really addressed directly."
A NASA spokesman said the agency was "reviewing the decision."
Daniel Cressey, "NASA background checks court fight continues," The Great Beyond: The Nature blog,
June 5, 2009,
NASA employees scored a victory this week in their struggle against background checks they regard as hugely intrusive.
Annie Youderian, "Full 9th Circuit Declines to Hear JPL Privacy Case," Courthouse News Service,
June 5, 2009,
The 9th Circuit on Thursday let stand an injunction blocking NASA and Caltech from performing
extensive background checks on low-risk employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Carol J. Williams, "Appellate judge asks Supreme Court to clarify privacy rights," Los Angeles Times,
June 4, 2009,
On Thursday, the appeals court rejected petitions for another three-judge review and for the fuller en banc rehearing.
That prompted Kozinski to write a dissenting opinion, arguing that with only an "opaque fragment" of an opinion from a
1977 case before the Supreme Court and a "grab bag" of interpretations since then, a fuller version of his appeals
court needed to consider the JPL case to determine the details of the supposed right to privacy.
"It's a bit like building a dinosaur from a jawbone or a skull fragment, and the result looks more like a turducken,"
Kozinski said, alluding to a deboned turkey stuffed with duck and chicken. The chief judge was joined by two other
Republican appointees to the court, Judges Andrew J. Kleinfeld and Carlos T. Bea.
En banc votes among the court's active judges are secret, but Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw
observed in her opinion for the majority that Thursday's balloting wasn't close.
Associated Press, "Full 9th Circuit declines to hear JPL privacy case," Silicon Valley MercuryNews.com,
June 4, 2009,
LOS ANGELES - A federal appeals court has declined to rehear a case involving background
checks at NASA's premier robotic exploration lab.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled that NASA should
be blocked from conducting background checks on its employees at the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, saying it threatens workers' constitutional rights.
In a ruling Thursday, the court declined to rehear the case as a full panel.
Twenty-eight JPL scientists and engineers had sued NASA, saying a Bush
administration directive invaded their privacy by allowing federal
investigators access into their personal information to get new identification badges.
- Lead Plaintiff, Dr. Robert Nelson, describes the case on
Law and Disorder Radio, August 11,2008.
Audio is also available here.
The segment starts at 8:30 minute mark.
Sami Lais , "NASA employees continue HSPD-12 fight," FCW.COM,
July 14, 2008,
Employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory got an ultimatum last year:
Submit to new, more thorough background investigations or leave the agency.
Twenty-eight JPL scientists, engineers and administrative support
employees instead took their employers to court.
The plaintiffs and some observers say the ensuing legal battle has raised
questions about the federal government's background investigation methods
and the constitutionality of the trigger event: Homeland Security Presidential
Directive 12. The process also exposed the agency's laundry list of workforce problems...
Mary O'Keefe, "Committee meets on HSPD-12," La Canada Valley Sun,
April 17, 2008,
During the hearing Congressman Adam Schiff asked Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator,
why NASA interpreted the directive differently than other agencies, and asked for more
extensive background checks.
"We are not trying to impose any requirements beyond what we believe the law requires
for HSPD-12," Griffin answered. None of the employees that brought the lawsuit are in a
classified or "sensitive" position at JPL.
"....Frankly, there are people at the Energy Department that are working on sensitive
national security issues that are of equal significance than, I think, being down at JPL," Schiff countered.
Mary O'Keefe, "JPL background check from the front line," La Canada Valley Sun,
March 20, 2008,
The idea to bring a suit against NASA was not the first thing that came to the employees'
minds, Nelson said. The first was to question the JPL and Caltech managers and
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin when he visited the campus shortly after the background checks were announced.
"When we asked [Griffin] about the checks he said 'If you don't like it I hope you like working somewhere else,"
Nelson said. "He was really our best recruiter."
Mary O'Keefe, "JPL back to court in background check case," La Canada Valley Sun,
February 7, 2008,
On Feb. 15 Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees will be back in district
court concerning their lawsuit against NASA.
...the circuit court decision included Caltech. "Caltech is out, by the district court
ruling however we are going to appeal that decision," [Keeny, attorney for the JPL employees] said.
- Plaintiffs' Attorney Dan Stormer, interviewed on WNYC's
Lopate Show, January 31,2008. Audio is available here.
"...I would be shocked if the Government did not take it to a higher court..."
"...If the Government seeks review in the Supreme Court, it will probably get accepted, and
that's probably where we'll end up".
- Tim Rutten, "Inquisition at JPL, The government shouldn't be prying into the personal lives of its scientists",
Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2008,
also appeared in the Mercury News.
...as the price of keeping their jobs, many of America's finest space scientists were being asked
to give the feds virtually blanket permission to snoop and spy and collect even malicious
gossip about them from God knows who.
As custodians of a great human adventure, the men and women of JPL deserve better from their own
country than to be victimized by a shabby crowd of apprentice Torquemadas. By resisting this
bargain-basement inquisition, JPL plaintiffs have rendered us all yet another service.
Who would have guessed that the folks with the pocket protectors would turn out to be
the ones with the right stuff?
- Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, SCIENCESCOPE, Science Vol. 319. no. 5861, p. 271, January 18, 2008,
Scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have won a temporary reprieve from a new rule
mandating extensive background checks of all government employees and contractors. Last week, a federal judge
in Los Angeles abided by an order from an appellate court and allowed the 28 employees to continue working
at the Pasadena, California, facility without giving the government permission to investigate their personal
histories. NASA officials said the new checks, which went into effect this fall, are needed to improve
lab security. But the appellate court said that the employees, who sued NASA and JPL in August, were
facing "a stark choice: either violation of their constitutional rights or loss of their jobs." The case
will now go to trial. "We were subjected to a lot of pressure from JPL,
and we are glad to have survived," says planetary scientist Robert Nelson, one of the plaintiffs.
- Alyssa Rosenberg, "NASA contract employees win injunction against background checks," Government Executive,
January 14, 2008, http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0108/011408ar1.htm.
Form 42, which the government uses to query employees' references, "seeks highly personal
information using an open-ended questioning technique, including asking for 'any adverse
information' or 'additional information which . . . may have a bearing on this person's
suitability for government employment,' " Wardlaw wrote. "Any harm that results from
Form 42's dissemination and the information consequently provided to the government
will be concrete and immediate."
That harm, Wardlaw continued, was compounded by the fact that Caltech's rule made the
background checks a mandatory condition of employment. She rebuked the lower court for
suggesting that the harm to JPL employees was minimal.
- John Schwartz, "Court Allows Scientists to Work at NASA Until Trial Over Background Checks," The New York Times,
January 12, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/12/us/12jpl.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print.
A group of scientists working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory won a round in federal
court on Friday in their challenge to a Bush administration requirement that they submit
to extensive background checks or face losing their jobs.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in California, issued an
opinion allowing the scientists to continue working until the question of their
privacy challenge can be addressed at a full trial.
Michael Cabbage, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
said, "NASA will, of course, comply with any rulings from the court of appeals."
- Alice Turner, "Appeals Court Favors JPL Employees," eFluxMedia,
January 12, 2008, http://www.efluxmedia.com/news_Appeals_Court_Favors_NASA_JPL_Employees_12743.html.
The three-judge panel has decided that the investigations threaten the constitutional
rights of workers, is not grounded in law, and is not narrowly tailored to a legitimate need.
"We're ecstatic," workers' attorney Dan Stormer said. "This represents a vindication
of constitutional protections that all of us are entitled to. It prevents the government
from conducting needless searches into backgrounds."
- Bob Egelko, "S.F. appeals court bars government's probes of NASA scientists," San Francisco Chronicle,
January 12, 2008, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/01/12/MNSDUE0GB.DTL.
A federal appeals court barred the Bush administration Friday from looking into the personal
lives of NASA scientists and engineers who have no access to
classified information, saying the probes are intrusive and unrelated to national security.
Their lawyer Dan Stormer said the ruling also applies to workers at NASA's Ames Research
Center in Mountain View and other NASA operations in the nine Western states covered by the Ninth Circuit.
- Elise Kleeman, "Judge halts JPL worker checks," San Gabriel Valley Tribune,
January 11, 2008, http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_7950378.
A federal judge Friday barred NASA from requiring background checks for any of its low-security
Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees until the courts resolve whether the checks constitute an invasion of privacy.
Wright's ruling Friday ensures that the injunction will apply to all of JPL's
nearly 5,000 low-security employees, not just those who filed the lawsuit.
During the hearing, Department of Justice lawyer Vesper Mei also suggested the
government might request an "en banc" review of the the Court of Appeals' ruling,
in which a panel of 15 Ninth Circuit judges would reconsider the case.
More than once, though, Wright stated his hope that the parties could solve their dispute outside the courthouse.
"I don't like the idea that these claims are going to be litigated. I want these claims to be negotiated," he said.
Then, after a pause, he added: "I also wanted a bicycle for Christmas ..."
Linda Deutsch, "Appeals court blocks some NASA background checks," Associated Press,
as reported by http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5449425.html ,
as well as in San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Daily News,
Sioux City Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Southern Ledger, Wyoming News, Belleville News Democrat,
San Luis Obispo Tribune, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Biloxi Sun Herald, San Jose Mercury News, Guardian Unlimited,
The Oregonian, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Contra Costa Times, Forbes, Dallas Morning News, Daily Mail,
Denver Post, San Diego Union Tribune, BusinessWeek, ABC News, FOXNews, Newsday, Shanghai Daily, Los Angeles Times, and many other outlets.
A federal judge blocked the government Friday from conducting background checks of
low-risk employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory after an appeals court
said the investigations threaten the constitutional rights of workers.
U.S. District Judge Otis Wright issued the injunction after the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his earlier ruling and issued a sharp rebuke to the judge.
Veronica McGregor, a spokeswoman for Caltech and JPL, said Friday afternoon,
"We are going to abide by any decisions made by the court."
- Editor: Sun Yunlong, "Court ruling temporarily stops background checks of JPL scientists,"
Xinhua, January 11, 2008,
A federal appellate court ruled on Friday that scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
will not have to undergo federal background checks until a judge rules on their constitutionality.
JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor noted that although JPL and CalTech were dismissed as
defendants by Wright, "We intend to abide by the (appellate) courts' decisions in this matter".
Dan Stormer, an attorney for the JPL employees, hailed the court 's decision.
"It is a complete victory for us," he said. ``We couldn't be happier."
Wade-Hahn Chan, "Court considers dismissing JPL HSPD-12 lawsuit," Federal Computer Week,
January 8, 2008, http://www.fcw.com/online/news/151247-1.html.
The hearing on the motion to dismiss the case comes as a temporary injunction allowing
the employees to avoid the background checks remains in place.
The U.S. District Court judge presiding over the case originally
denied the injunction, saying that the employees were required only
to sign an authorization form that would not cause harm to them. But
the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided Dec. 5, 2007, that there was
sufficient cursory evidence to show possible privacy concerns and
temporarily granted an injunction.
- Mary O'Keefe, "JPL privacy case is not yet resolved," La Canada Valley Sun,
December 13, 2007,
"We had oral argument with the Ninth Circuit Court," said Virginia Keeny, attorney for the JPL employees. "They did not offer an opinion."
...Keeny added she was not certain when the panel of three judges would hand down an opinion but that it might be in the new year."
- Keith Cowing of NASAWatch.com interviewed on Federal News Radio,
December 11, 2007,
"Employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are suing to prevent
background checks the government is conducting before issuing HSPD-12 cards. Those
checks are on hold right now, but checks are moving forward at other NASA field centers.
Keith Cowing is a former NASA scientist and the host of www.nasawatch.com. He says
NASA employees at other centers are just as unhappy about the checks as those at the JPL."
(Local copy of the radio interview).
- Aliya Sternstein, "NASA will check backgrounds despite criticism", Government Executive,
December 7, 2007,
NASA is going forward with what some are calling "invasive" background checks at all
but one of its field centers despite ongoing litigation to end the process at that facility,
NASA officials said Thursday.
- Kenneth Ofgang, "Ninth Circuit Judges Appear Skeptical of JPL Background Checks,"
December 6, 2007,
"A Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel yesterday appeared to be leaning in favor of enjoining, at least temporarily,
a program of background checks that scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory have challenged as overly intrusive.
"You're doing a good job, " Senior Judge David Thompson commented as Virginia Keeny argued that her clients'
constitutional rights of privacy were being violated. "Keep it up."
"The panel, consisting of Wardlaw, Thompson, and U.S. District Judge Edward Reed on Nevada,
sitting by designation, gave no indication as to when it would it rule.
The case is Nelson v. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 07-56424."
Elise Kleeman, "Judges hear arguments on JPL checks,"
San Gabriel Valley Tribune,
December 5, 2007,
"The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges posed sharp questions to the government
lawyer about the necessity of the background checks, which include questions about
drug use and drug treatment, as well as an open-ended waiver releasing personal information."
- Joe Piasecki, "Time to 'turn around',"
October 25, 2007,
Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich marks visit with
strong words on intrusive JPL background checks.
"This is fundamentally wrong. I want everyone at
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to know that not only as
president but as a member of Congress I'm going to work
to expose this and overturn it. I think what [the government is]
doing is unconstitutional. They're violating people's rights to privacy..."
- Alicia Chang, "Judge to bar NASA background checks on drugs for
The International Herald Tribune,
October 1, 2007,
"A federal judge said he planned to temporarily bar NASA from
asking workers at one of its research centers during background checks
whether they had ever used drugs. The drug use question was only a
small part of a lawsuit filed by 28 scientists, engineers and staff at
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena who claimed the new security
measures invaded their privacy."
- "Rocket Wizards Burned Up Over Probe,"
The Tampa Tribune,
September 11, 2007,
Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are so
irritated by a new requirement for intrusive background checks that
they're filing suit. Good for them. Six years after the Sept. 11
attacks, the nation won't be safer if it begins inspecting every detail
of the lives of its key workers.
- Christopher J. Dorobek, "Editorial: A time for listening,"
Federal Computer Week,
September 10, 2007,
"The government needs dedicated, talented people -- particularly now.
Feds are already underpaid and underappreciated. On top of that, NASA
has employees with unique skills that cannot be easily replaced. To
subject them to another mandate and say, 'Take it or leave it,' seems
shortsighted and unnecessarily draconian."
- "JPL Staffers Sue Government,"
The Arcadia Weekly,
September 7, 2007,
"Both local members of Congress, Adam Schiff and David Dreier, have
expressed concern about the issue. 'Congressman Dreier shares their
concerns regarding personal privacy,' said Alisa Do, Dreier's
legislative director. Schiff said, 'We must be vigilant to ensure that
whatever personal information is obtained from those who work at our
science centers is necessary to maintain security and used for only that
- "Just Say No,"
September 7, 2007,
"'This is something straight out of the 1950's McCarthy era,' says Dennis
Byrnes, JPL chief engineer for flight dynamics. NASA officials say the
checks, standard procedure for all government employees for decades, are
simply being extended to contractors in a post-9/11 world."
- "JPL scientists sue over background checks,"
La Canada Valley Sun,
September 6, 2007,
"[David Mould, NASA assistant administrator for public affairs,] said
that there was not a recent security breech or any concerns about
scientists at JPL to prompt this action, that the agency is just
complying with the government's policy. However the directive does have
flexibility with each agency deciding how the background checks are
- Shaun Waterman, "Lawmakers slam ID rules that prompted suit,"
United Press International,
September 5, 2007,
"U.S. lawmakers are slamming new rules requiring background checks
for federal employees, which have provoked a lawsuit from NASA
scientists. [...] 'We must make sure that any intrusion into the
privacy of those who work at JPL -- or any other lab -- is narrowly
tailored to meet the government's security interest and goes no
further,' Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told United Press International.
'Otherwise, we will discourage the nation's best and brightest from
joining the workforce.' [...] 'I am not satisfied that it has been done
here. The broad privacy waivers that are being required of scientists
working on non-sensitive matters must be re-examined and if not
justified, must be reined back.'"
- Lewis Page, "NASA boffins resist intrusive security probe -- Space
brainboxes in sex-snoop vetting lawsuit,"
September 5, 2007,
"A group of cheesed-off American space boffins are resisting new
security procedures, implemented in the wake of 9/11, which require them
to submit to background checks."
- Bruce Schneier,
"NASA Employees Sue over Background Checks,"
Schneier on Security,
September 4, 2007,
This blog informs readers of the HSPD-12 controversy at JPL.
- Aliya Sternstein, "NASA researchers balk at background checks,"
National Journal's Technology Daily, September 4, 2007, http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=37930&dcn=todaysnews.
"[Congressman] Holt, who wrote to Gutierrez on May 21, said on
Tuesday, 'I'm still not aware of any justification for this invasive and
distrustful method. There seems to be no rationale for [it].'"
- "JPL Employees File Suit Over Federally-Mandated Background Checks
-- Plaintiffs Say Info Doesn't Apply To Non-Classified Positions,"
Aero-News.net, September 1, 2007,
"The suit says the checks violate employees' Constitutional rights
by asking all employees, from janitors to visiting professors to grant
permission for the government to investigate everything from financial
records to medical records to sex lives - or lose their jobs."
- John Johnson Jr., "JPL scientists sue to block security checks for staff--
The group says the background checks would access too much personal
information," Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2007, http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-me-jpl31aug31,1,153216. story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california.
"Our clients are exemplary employees who have spent their work lives
bettering this country. This attack on their right to privacy will not
be tolerated," said Dan Stormer of the Hadsell & Stormer law firm in
Pasadena. The class action lawsuit seeks a court order that would
prevent JPL, in La Cañada Flintridge, and NASA from imposing the new
security background requirements. A hearing on the request for a
preliminary injunction is scheduled for Sept. 24."
- "Scientists fight against homeland security investigations," heise
online, September 1, 2007, http://www.heise.de/english/newsticker/news/95334.
"Employees must not only provide their fingerprints, which are
required for the biometric access and control system and shall be stored
on RFID chips, but also sign documents before September 28, which give
investigators carte blanche to spy out their private backgrounds in
- Allan Holmes, "JPL Workers Sue Over HSPD-12 Checks," Government
Executive, August 31, 2007, http://blogs.govexec.com/techinsider/archives/2007/08/jpl_workers_sue_over_ hspd12_ch.php.
"The suit is structured so that it can become a class action suit.
Could this just be the tip of the iceberg?" The story is mostly a
summary of the AP story
- Xinhua, "JPL employees challenge Bush administration on background check
policy," People's Daily Online, China, August 31, 2007, http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90777/6251915.html.
"'They're being required to give up every personal record they
have," [attorney Dan Stormer] said. 'It's just a despicable incursion
into constitutionally protected rights.' The lawsuit seeks a preliminary
injunction against implementing the background checks."
- Wade-Hahn Chan, "28 NASA scientists sue over HSPD-12 checks,"
Federal Computer Week, August 31, 2007, http://www.fcw.com/article103657-08-31-07-Web.
This is a report on filing of suit to stop JPL rebadging process.
The article is essentially correct, but incorrectly states that those
refusing will be "unable to work in an office that deals with sensitive
work." Actually, all of the plaintiffs (and 98% of JPL employees) work
in non-sensitive areas, but they are still being told they must
comply or lose their jobs.
- Deborah Noble,Pasadena, CA, "NASA Scientists Challenge Security
Rules," The Nation Webletters, August 31, 2007, http://www.thenation.com/bletters/20070910/lindorff.
"NASA has persisted in calling its invasive background check for
'rebadging' a 'voluntary' procedure and 'standard.' It isn't. JPL
employees have been told by upper management and by HR and security
representatives that anyone who doesn't comply, in full, and fill out
the Office of Procurement Management forms completely, or who does not
sign a blanket waiver of his or her privacy rights in perpetuity for the
information demanded 'will be assumed to have filed a resignation.' And
none of the other agencies are doing it. It's not standard."
- Edvard Pettersson, "Caltech Scientists Sue NASA Over Mandatory
Background Checks," Bloomberg.com, August 31, 2007, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aFL9TZmNpSvA&refer=us.
"The scientists must submit to 'an open-ended background
investigation' and a determination of their suitability for their jobs
based on 'wrong-headed and/or dangerously vague criteria such as sexual
orientation,' they said yesterday in a complaint in Los Angeles federal
- Doualy Xaykaothao, "JPL Scientists Sue NASA Over Background
Checks," KPCC/NPR Southern California Public Radio August 31,
- Anonymous, "Hippie NASA Employees Fighting New Badges," BelchSpeak,
belch.com, August 31, 2007, http://www.belch.com/blog/2007/08/31/hippie-nasa-employees-fighting-new-badges/.
A former employee of the Department of Homeland Security,
identifying himself only as "Pat," states that Susan Foster probably is
a criminal who has a "growing operation in her basement." Pat doesn't
seem to let the truth get in the way of his opinions. For example,
the "stupid hippies who managed to work at CalTech as JPL contractors"
are actually NASA scientists and engineers who are driving the Mars
rovers, analyzing black holes, and navigating the Cassini spacecraft to
Saturn, and the Apollo missions to the Moon.
- John North, "JPL Lawsuit",
ABC 7 Eyewitness News,
August 30, 2007,
Local TV News coverage of press conference announcing lawsuit.
- Channel 4 news,
August 30, 2007.
Local TV News coverage of press conference announcing lawsuit.
- Andrew C. Revkin, "Suit Filed Over Security Steps at NASA
Facility," The New York Times, August 30, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/31/us/31nasa.html?ref=science
Zareh Gorjian [...] develops animation and other presentations
related to space missions and has worked at the laboratory for 17 years.
'I was at J.P.L. during the cold war when we were fighting the Soviet
Union, which had the power not only to end all life in the U.S. but the
entire planet. We were able to defeat them without resorting to such
- "NASA Employees Fight Invasive Background Check," Slashdot -- News
for Nerds -- Stuff that Matters, August 30, 2007, http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/08/30/2210202
"Longtime JPL scientists, many of whom do not work on classified
materials, including rover drivers and Apollo veterans, sued NASA,
Caltech, and the Department of Commerce today to fight highly invasive
background checks, which include financial information, any and all
retail business transactions, and even sexual orientation."
- "Scientists, engineers sue NASA over extensive new background
checks," The Candian Press, August 30, 2007, http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5hDRApTfXzgtdu81ASXV5gQBV5Zjw.
"The lawsuit says NASA is violating the Constitution by calling on
employees, from janitors to visiting professors, to permit investigators
to delve into medical, financial and past employment records, and to
question friends and acquaintances about everything from their finances
to sex lives. Those who refuse could lose their jobs, the suit says."
- Elise Kleeman, "28 JPL employees file suit over new security
reviews," Pasadena Star News, August 30, 2007, http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/search/ci_6765314?IADID=Search-www. pasadenastarnews.com-www.pasadenastarnews.com
"'By joining with my colleagues and (law firm) Hadsell & Stormer,
I'm hoping to preserve the rights guaranteed to us by the Bill of
Rights,' Zareh Gorjian, a 17-year JPL employee, said at a news
conference at the Pasadena-based law firm."
- Dave Lindorff, "NASA Scientists Challenge Security Rules," The
Nation, August 30, 2007, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070910/lindorff,
also at Yahoo! News, August 30, 2007, http://news.yahoo.com/s/thenation/20070830/cm_thenation/20070910lindorff
"[Scientists] are claiming that the agency may be trying to
control or silence them about issues like global warming. [...]
Interestingly too, the background checks are only required of permanent
employees. People who come to work at JPL or Goddard for less than six
months don't need them--a curious lapse if the concern is security.
[...] [T]he directive states that the standard for establishing
employees' identities is to be established independently by each agency,
and that agencies can use 'graduated criteria, from least secure to most
secure, to ensure flexibility in selecting the appropriate level of
security for each application.' For unexplained reasons, Griffin chose
an extreme standard for the space agency's two key research
- Robert Jablon, "JPL scientists sue over new ID checks," Associated
Press, August 30, 2007, as reported in
as well as by Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, FOXNews.com, MSNBC,
Forbes, USA Today, Business Week, WTOP News, Savvy.com, SeattlePI.com,
Townhall.com, Sun-Sentinel.com, Fort Mill Times, Las Vegas Sun, Canadian
Business, Statesmen, The Huffington Post, Ledger Enquirer,
OregonLive.com, ksl.com, Yahoo! News, Chico Enterprise Record,
Boston.com, Belleville News-Democrat, bakersfield.com, realcities.com,
adn.com, The Ledger, Centre Daily, SiLive.com, phillyburbs.com, Fresno
Bee, WSAW, Monterey Herald, The Examiner, AccessNorthGeorgia.com, WRAL,
Sacromento Bee, drugpolicycentral.com, Newsday.com, findlaw.com, News
Tribune, Times Daily, KSL, KCBS, bnd.com, leadingthecharge.com,
nctimes.com, cnbc.com, The Modesto Bee, The Sun Herald, Worldnews.com,
sanluisobispo.com, breitbart.com, San Diego Source,
ContraCostaTimes.com, localtechwire.com, SignOnSanDiego.com, WIBC,
COX.net, and many others.
"Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists and engineers sued NASA and
the California Institute of Technology on Thursday, challenging
extensive new background checks that the space exploration center and
other federal agencies began requiring [...] Those who refuse could lose
their jobs, the suit says. 'They don't tell you what they're looking
for, they don't tell you when they're looking for it, they won't tell us
what they're doing with the data,' said plaintiff Susan Foster, a
technical writer and editor at JPL for nearly 40 years."
- Kristen Philipkoski, "JPL Scientists Sue Federal Government and
Caltech for NASA's Background Checks," Wired, August 30, 2007, http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/08/jpl-scientists-.html
"I can fly a spacecraft to any planet in the galaxy, and I'm
being judged by people who don't have a clue as to my technical
qualifications whether I'm suitable for government service," said
- Joe Piasecki, "Too Much Information -- JPL scientists resist a
Homeland Security directive that could allow intense government scrutiny
of their private lives," Pasadena Weekly, August 23, 2007, http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/article.php?id=5007&IssueNum=86
"It seems to us a fruitless venture in the War on Terror. This is
a security apparatus that has gotten out of control, using 9/11 as a
pretext to gather background information on innocent civilians, and in
our case, engineers and scientists who are not doing classified
research," said [JPL Scientist Robert] Nelson.
- Spying on the Home Front, Frontline, 2007.
Last updated: December 24, 2009
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