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JPL Background Check Case Reaches Supreme Court 112

Dthief writes "A long-running legal battle between the United States government and a group of 29 scientists and engineers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has now reached the US Supreme Court." At issue: mandatory background checks for scientists and engineers working at JPL, which they allege includes snooping into their sexual orientation, as well as their mental and physical health.
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JPL Background Check Case Reaches Supreme Court

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  • by shoota ( 834369 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @12:58AM (#31461588)
    JPL employees are not federal employees. Rather they are employees of Caltech which is contracted by NASA to run JPL. The federal government owns all of the equipment and facilities, but Caltech is in charge of the personnel.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @02:35AM (#31462090)

    These jobs do not involve security clearances. RTFA please.

    Much more at plaintiffs'

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @02:42AM (#31462118)

    Also, low-level clearances (Secret, for example) are basically just a criminal background check and a quick sweep over the government databases to make sure you're not someone /obviously/ bad. There'd be no reason whatsoever to stick in "are you gay?" to that level of check.I agree with you completely.

    However, it would be nice if we could even find out what is included in the background check.

    As an example -- I am an amateur radio operator who would like to be of assistance in a disaster to help organizations like the American Red Cross. However, the haughty management at ARC, a couple of years back, took it upon themselves to mandate the imposition of a very intrusive background check on all employees -- and on all VOLUNTEERS.

    It is a three-part check -- criminal, credit and LIFESTYLE.

    What is that in aid of? They refuse to say what is included in the lifestyle check, beyond saying it's "not limited in scope". And you can be damned sure they will not tell you on what basis you may be rejected. They've obviously been sucked into the current DHS hysteria and think they can just lay on requirements and expect those affected to just knuckle under and accept their crap without question.

    The ARRL (American Radio Relay League) is a nationwide organization which covers issues affecting radio amateurs. As a result of the ARC's decision, the ARRL found it necessary to caution amateurs that they should carefully consider what they are giving permission for if they sign up as a volunteer. In further negotiations, the ARC apparently backed off the lifestyle requirement for people volunteering for seven days or less. (Pretty minor disaster, huh?).

    Here is a link to the ARRL statement on this issue []

    The ARRL takes no position recommending any specific action to be taken over this issue beyond cautioning potential volunteers to carefully consider the details of what they are authorizing. The link includes the high-handed language insisted upon by the company to which the investigation has been outsourced.

    Note that the doc is dated son\me two years ago. To the best of my knowledge, the situation has not yet been resolved to the point where the ARRL will sign a final MOU for co-operation with ARC.

    A later doc explaining the ARRL position, after further negotiation, is at []. Despite the ARRL backing down, the investigating company still asserts that you are consenting to investigations of unlimited scope.

    Raw intransigence, if you ask me.

  • by Concerned Onlooker ( 473481 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @02:42AM (#31462122) Homepage Journal

    OK, so you're a little uninformed about the whole issue. Well, a lot uninformed.

    The deal is that people who have been working loyally FOR YEARS could suddenly find themselves unacceptable and out of a job due to a background check that is abusive enough to qualify for a security clearance even though in fact it would not be a security clearance. Not only that, but the abusive snooping extends to everyone you've ever known. That's a wide net. Not to mention having to list every place you've ever lived in the past 7 years along with contact info to prove you were there.

    Also, very little classified work goes on at JPL. Very little. Most everything they do is released to the public sooner or later; usually sooner. They partner with universities all over to provide them with scientific data from instruments on spacecraft and those institutions get their data in minutes, not even days or weeks.

    "There's no constitutional right to work at JPL."

    Yeah, I love that one. There is no constitutional right to privacy either, but it would be a mistake not to fight the government every step of the way when it comes to invasion into the personal lives of its citizens when it is not warranted.

  • Re:It is important (Score:3, Informative)

    by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @02:50AM (#31462148)

    Anyone who really believes lie detectors work is unqualified to manage security.

  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Saturday March 13, 2010 @03:08AM (#31462214) Homepage Journal
    This [][PDF Warning] is the "suitability matrix", their criteria. Notice that "sodomy" is a Class C (D being the worst) offense. Weren't the nations archaic sodomy laws struck down by the supreme court in 2003?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @03:24AM (#31462288)

    And this is *EXACTLY* why the government needs to know this kind of thing. It may seem a little out of place in today's world but think back a mere 20 years ago. Being gay wasn't as accepted then. Think back even further. Like the 60's and beyond. If you were a homosexual you were presumed to be a deviant by most of society. Homosexuals weren't "closeted" back then. They were more like "in a dark closet in a tunnel dug under a trapdoor under a rug in the basement of a nondescript house."

    And that's why nearly all US spy cases involved heterosexuals who sold out their country to pay their gambling debts. which is why a group called "High Tech Gays" at Livermore Labs won a law suit during the Reagan administration barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in security clearances.

    Frack you, bigot boy.

  • Re:mental health? (Score:5, Informative)

    by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @04:19AM (#31462492)

    That's the thing!! The work they're doing is not top secret. In fact, it's quite far from it. The research those 28 people are doing at Cal Tech goes directly into the public domain.

    And of course, they have no issue with background checks for Professors that want to do classified work, or have access to classified work, or even access to classified equipment, but those researchers complaining are not doing any of that, they're just mathematicians, and if need access to something proprietary or classified, they just need to apply for it separately (which is fine with them).

  • by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @08:54AM (#31463316) Homepage

    As someone who was likely to be required to undergo a background check to get a badge (as an external contractor working on the Cassini mission), I have some knowledge of the checks they want to do.

    First of all, many, perhaps most employees and contractors don't handle classified data. We're doing scientific work with technology that's 10-20 years old by the time it's in orbit around another planet. So it seems excessive to worry about the security risk.

    Second, the form that they wanted us to fill out (the "matrix of risks") dates back several decades, to the 50s as I recall. You can imagine how wonderfully relevant it is. And it seems to rate sexual orientation (for example) as a more important risk than, say, having committed a murder. Seriously. It was comical, or would be if it weren't so serious.

    Third, the checks that they seek to do aren't simple "does she have a felony on record or a similar problem in her history?" They wanted us to sign permissions to do some pretty deep snooping: they wanted permission to contact former neighbors, friends, teachers/professors, and even doctors. Which, for non-classified scientific research, is absurdly invasive. Astronomical research just isn't that important to begin with.

    In general, JPL seems to have developed an obsession with security theater (ask me for stories there sometime) after 9/11. My suspicion is that it makes them feel more important to "need" extra security all over the place. (As if any terrorist organizations are keen on blowing up JPL anyway. It utterly lacks the profile or significance to just about anyone outside of the geek community.)

  • I believe he was trying to link to this file [], provided courtesy of this post [].

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