A group of scientists has demanded
that the U.S. Attorney
General's office immediately retract remarks made by a government
arguments before the Supreme Court over privacy concerns with NASA
The scientists said they want the
attorney general to
retract a statement made by acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal during
opening statement, which at one point addressed how easily employees at
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., could access sensitive
facilities using a new security badge.
The case, Nelson
et al. v. NASA et al., concerns whether the space agency can
intensive employee background checks without violating constitutional
rights. Scientists working as government contractors at JPL filed the
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
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
to JPL. It will also give them other access to all other NASA
it's such an important credential that it would allow them to get
example, 6 to 10 feet of the space shuttle as it is being repaired and
for launch. So this is a credential not just for JPL and getting onto
other places as well."
JPL badges do not
provide such broad access, the scientists responded. NASA's Jet
Laboratory is managed for the space agency by the California
Technology in Pasadena.
The security credential in use at JPL
allows entry to other
NASA facilities, but only to nonsensitive areas, they said. JPL
not access the space shuttle or any other "flight hardware" without
the proper training and authorization no matter what badge they
"Katyal's remarks reflect the Justice
astounding ignorance of basic NASA rules and procedures," Nelson said
remarks he was to deliver at the 42nd meeting of the Division for
Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Pasadena yesterday
(Oct. 7). "This
ignorance has been demonstrated by the DOJ throughout the case. It is
regrettable that the Supreme Court will decide an important case like
with false information in hand."
JPL scientists sued NASA in 2007, challenging the agency's background
checks as illegal
and unjustified violations of
their privacy. On Oct. 3, 2007, the federal District Court in Los
dismissed the suit.
days later, the U.S. 9th
Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the scientists and issued an
injunction that stopped the checks.
The federal government appealed,
and the Supreme
Court agreed to hear the case. A decision is expected early