Rocket Scientists See Red Flag in Background Checks

Contentious case likely to advance to Supreme Court
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2009 3:52 PM CST
This artist's rendering released by NASA shows the 2009 Mars Science Laboratory on the surface of Mars.   (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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(Newser) – A case brought by workers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory could help determine a government standard for employee privacy. The rocket scientists have won a district court ruling against a Bush-era homeland security initiative that instituted background checks for all employees. The employees consider the checks not just intrusive but a reminder of McCarthy-era witch hunts. "These guys went to leftist meetings in the ’30s, did heroic science in the ’40s and were persecuted in the ’50s," says one plaintiff.

The checks investigate employees’ history of counseling, drug use, financial integrity, mental stability, sexual activity, and sexual preference, even for those without security clearances or access to sensitive information, the New York Times reports. Another JPL scientist hears echoes of the Cold War, saying of the Soviets: "We were able to defeat them without resorting to such intrusive tactics."

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