NASA Background Checks Opposed

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 13 (UPI) — NASA scientists say proposed “intrusive” background checks invade their privacy and could affect the U.S. space agency’s ability to attract top people.

In 2005, a group of 28 scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., objected to background checks introduced by JPL as part of efforts to beef up homeland security, reported.

They sued, claiming the checks were “intrusive” because they would allow NASA to collect information such as one’s medical history and sexual habits, which the scientists say was unnecessary for workers at the lab using satellites and robotic spacecraft to explore the solar system.

“They wanted to know who we slept with,” planetary scientist Robert Nelson, who led the protest, said. “We thought that was off-limits, out of bounds.”

In 2007, a lower court issued an injunction blocking JPL from carrying out the checks.

The government appealed and the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 5, although it could take months for the court to rule.

If upheld, scientists say, the checks could affect NASA’s ability to hire and retain personnel.

“You’re going to lose folks,” Dennis Byrnes, a JPL engineer, says.

“NASA will be losing top-notch scientific talent,” Nelson says. “They’ll just choose to work somewhere else.”

A NASA spokesman said the background checks are not unique to the agency and there are “many scientists across the agency and the federal government who have already gone through the required security procedures,” the New Scientist reported.

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