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JPL Employees File Suit Over Federally-Mandated Background Checks

Sat, 01 Sep '07

Plaintiffs Say Info Doesn't Apply To Non-Classified Positions

A new extensive federal background check has some employees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory seeing bureaucratic red.

A group of employees filed a lawsuit against the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the California Institute of Technology Thursday challenging the new background checks instituted after 9/11.

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.

"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 40-year JPL technical writer and editor.

JPL employees were told they have until September 28 to authorize the background checks. If they don't they will be "voluntarily terminated" as of October 27. The hearing for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for September 24, according to the Associated Press.

Twenty-eight employees are listed as plaintiffs. They have worked on such projects as the Galileo probe to Jupiter and the Mars rovers but none are involved in classified work.

"It's our policy not to comment on matters in litigation," said JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor.

JPL workers who called the checks intrusive brought their concerns to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin in June... and were told it was a "privilege to work within the federal system, not a right," and that he would carry out the order -- unless it is overturned in court, according to a video of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.

Attorney Dan Stormer said the employees were being forced to "voluntarily" sign forms that allowed investigations into their personal lives for two years even if they left their jobs.

Several of the plaintiffs have said they feel they are in a position of having to choose between their constitutional rights and their jobs.


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