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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 BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @12:52AM (#31461552)

    And TFA doesn't provide much enlightenment. They claim it's a violation of their privacy, but it isn't unusual for government jobs to require background checks. There's no constitutional right to work at JPL. Even if the employees concerned do not handle classified data, they do work at a lab where classified information is kept and highly secret defense projects take place. If they think their background checks are intrusive, they should see what White House employees had to go through in the Obama administration.

    If they're that concerned about their privacy, maybe they should work elsewhere.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @12:56AM (#31461578)
    ... you take the man's shit. Or work someplace else.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @12:58AM (#31461586)

    I am also not entirely sure what the issue is, but it could be something like this: JPL, as an EO employer, cannot discriminate based on sex, race, sexual orientation, etc. Therefore any background checks that are done should not be explicitly seeking out information on, for instance, whether they are gay or not unless there is some outside relevance (eg, their gay S/O is a known terrorist or something). If the background checks /were/ screening for sexual orientation without cause, I can see where they might get uppity about privacy concerns and the like.

    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.

  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @01:04AM (#31461628)

    If you take the man's money ...
    ... you take the man's shit. Or work someplace else.

    Why? The man's an employee of the people. He should take the people's shit, since he's already taking their money.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @01:15AM (#31461700)
    At least background checks are less likely to falsely implicate someone of being a spy.
  • by kriston ( 7886 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @01:22AM (#31461738) Homepage Journal

    It still does not matter. The customer is the US Government. They want contractors to abide by certain rules including security clearance vetting. These do not involve sexual orientation but they do involve blackmail risks which is perfectly reasonable for them to be concerned about.

    If you do not agree with security clearances you should not work for entities that require them. They really do not care about sexual orientation. They only care about exploitation risks. It really is that simple. The question is: can you be extorted? It's a valid question. It needs to be addressed.

  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @01:34AM (#31461796) Journal

    I am also not entirely sure what the issue is,

    Scientists working in the lab on unclassified and non-sensitive research are objecting to an invasive background check.

    If the background checks /were/ screening for sexual orientation without cause, I can see where they might get uppity about privacy concerns and the like.

    The reason sexuality and sexual activity is part of a background check is because, in the past, it has been used to blackmail individuals into disclosing classified and sensitive information.

    Background checks aren't just snooping for red flags.
    All that information gets considered together and used to make a risk assesment.
    To the government, a guy secretly cheating on his wife can be just as risky as a closeted homosexual.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @01:51AM (#31461870)

    There's no constitutional right to work at JPL.


    I am sick to goddamned death of you little shits who pretend to be Constitutional scholars and can't understand (likely due to having never read) the Ninth amendment -- a single clear statement.

    "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

    IOW, asshole, rights need not be explicitly granted to the people.

    Harsh language and harsh argument were had to guarantee the inclusion of the Ninth Amendment in the Bill of Rights. It was absolutely a show-stopper. One sentence used was directly aimed at dipshits like you -- "... otherwise some fool, two hundred years from now, will try to assert that people may not have a certain right, just because we failed to enumerate it."

    Write to your congress-critter, dumbass -- they pass out copies of the Constitution for free.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @02:00AM (#31461918)

    Attorneys are only obligated to put up a vigorous defense, not to win.

    The attorneys are required to defend the case. The policy makers aren't required to defend the issue. The Obama administration can lift a phone and END THIS in minutes. BHO need only call up the head of NASA/JPL and tell them to settle/acquiese and the case is over.

  • by honkycat ( 249849 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @02:06AM (#31461956) Homepage Journal

    There is very, very little classified work at JPL. The vast majority of the jobs have no need for any sort of clearance. The few that require a clearance already have it, and there is no objection to this requirement or to the background checks for those who need the clearance. The problem is that they're essentially asking for a carte blanche to probe the backgrounds of employees who have explicitly been categorized as not needing special access. Furthermore, there were strong signs that absurd criteria based on the results of these background checks were going to be used to deny them.

    I was affected by this as a graduate student who used to work at JPL. As you suggest, I would have changed projects rather than submit to this. Several high-profile scientists and engineers there made a similar decision, and they and others filed this suit. You can be flippant about it, but the work they do there is important, and it's awful, awful policy to force these people out over a ridiculous show of force like this. These people could make a lot more money working in the private sector, but they offer their talents toward projects that benefit us all. It takes a special kind of stupid to act like anyone's doing THEM a favor by "letting" them work there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @02:41AM (#31462116)

    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."

  • by TheMidget ( 512188 ) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @06:06AM (#31462800)

    Actually, the probability of being blackmailed goes up significantly once the government has access to the information.

    ... and the probability goes up once the government cares about this information. Indeed, if being gay can get you fired or will harm your career, then any "bad" guy could threaten to reveal this info to the government.

    If, on the other hand, the government doesn't care, that'll leave only decompilers.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.