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news 01.09.2007 18:30
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Scientists fight against homeland security investigations

In today’s times, whoever accepts a job in a US government authority or research institution gives up his/her right of privacy nearly completely. Since 2004, a directive of the US president has been effective ruling that any institution with potentially security-relevant tasks must investigate every single employee – be it a cleaning lady, a clerk, a landscaper or a construction worker – and install an access and control system based on ID cards and set up according to government specifications. The so-called Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12) does not only apply for government employees who could be „targets of a terrorist attack“, but also for companies and scientific institutions that do work for such government agencies.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) based in Pasadena/California is such a scientific institution. The JPL’s projects include the construction and control of satellites and spacecrafts for the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). JPL is part of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which specializes in natural sciences and engineering. The Deep Space Network which is spread across three continents and managed by JPL, controls and monitors numerous space and Mars missions, including the Spirit and Opportunity Mars robots, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the Spitzer space telescope. While normally, being offered a job as an engineer or scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is deemed a commendation and is much appreciated, the atmosphere is rather tense at the moment.

For JPL shall now implement the presidential directive HSPD-12. 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 detail. Employees must, for example, name friends and acquaintances, who might be asked questions, e.g., when the person to be investigated had sex the last time, which is his/her preferred form of sex, whether he/she borrows money, how friends assess his/her mental health, etc. Those who do not accept this "national check with inquiries" will be dismissed by October 27 and will be deemed to have voluntarily terminated their employment with Caltech.

Yesterday, 28 senior scientists and engineers at JPL filed suit at the United States District Court for the Central District of California against NASA, the Department of Commerce and Caltech in the name of more than 5,000 colleagues. The court has been requested to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the implementation of this enforced approval of background investigations. "This is another egregious example of the Bush Administration's assault on the Constitution", said Dan Stormer of Hadsell & Stormer. “This unlawful requirement allows unknown government officials to ask all manner of questions about people's personal lives" added Virginia Keeny, a partner at Hadsell & Stormer. And the JPL is not even a government institution, and 97 percent of its employees have no access to any secret information.

For instance, form SF85, which has to be completed by the employees, shall be used to find out if a person is eligible for a position in a government agency. Three persons have to be named who have known the applicant for at least five years. A person who knew the applicant must be named for each address, where the he/she has lived during the last three years. And of course, all of this information is provided “voluntarily”. Persons who apply for a job where they have to sign a non-disclosure agreement or those who hold such a position at JPL must also provide information on their financial situation, must release all doctors from their professional discretion and must accept that government authorities have insight into any records created for this person. (jk/c't)

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