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NASA Requires JPL Scientists To Give Up Right To Privacy

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the who-needs-a-private-life-when-you-have-science dept.

NASA 446

Markmarkmark writes "Wired is reporting that all NASA JPL scientists must 'voluntarily' (or be fired) sign a document giving the government the right to investigate their personal lives and history 'without limit'. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists this includes snooping into sexual orientation, mental & physical health as well as credit history and 'personality conflict'. 28 senior NASA scientists and engineers, including Mars Rover team members, refused to sign by the deadline and are now subject to being fired despite a decade or more of exemplary service. None of them even work on anything classified or defense related. They are suing the government and documenting their fight for their jobs and right to personal privacy."

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For comment suggestions ... (3, Insightful)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524651)

... look here NASA Employees Fight Invasive Background Check [slashdot.org] (Posted by CowboyNeal on Fri 31 Aug 01:04AM). Looks like wiring issues [bestpicever.com] seem commonplace.

CC.

Sounds like standard security clearance stuff... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21524971)

When I was in the military and needed a Top Secret security clearance in order to use radio encryption gear, this was standard stuff. They ask sexual orientation and credit history to be sure that no bad guys can blackmail you into giving them information. They do personality tests to be sure you aren't crazy. They ask for detailed family histories, and the names and phone numbers of 10 of you closest friends, and they interview those people in person to make sure you are who you say you are.

Why would JPL scientists need this level of clearance? Maybe their work involves access to military technology?

Re:Sounds like standard security clearance stuff.. (3, Informative)

rk (6314) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525141)

I've been to JPL a couple times when I worked on some Mars Odyssey related stuff, and security is kind of tight for the whole facility. One of the software engineers in our lab is a Pakistani citizen and he wasn't even allowed to come to a party we had there once.

To my knowledge, there's little classified work that goes on there, but I'm sure there's sensitive stuff... it's literally rocket science. These background checks sound a little too intrusive for a bunch of science geeks, though.

Very Inappropriate (5, Informative)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524683)

These guys are scientists, not super secret spies. Besides, a clean slate is no guarantee a rocket scientist isn't going to go psycho after getting dumped and stalk his ex. Also sets a horrible precedent for other top-tier science fields.

Re:Very Inappropriate (2, Funny)

plover (150551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524825)

Besides, a clean slate is no guarantee a rocket scientist isn't going to go psycho after getting dumped and stalk his ex.
Wait, are you saying that a rocket scientist who has undergone all those background checks [cnn.com] might still flip out anyway? I don't think that's possible.</sarcasm>

Re:Very Inappropriate (1)

Ford Prefect (8777) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525103)

Lisa Nowak was an astronaut, not a rocket scientist. The latter, of course, have no chance whatsoever [wikipedia.org] of any skeletons lurking in their cupboards, honest!

Experiment gone bad! (1)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525133)

Besides, a clean slate is no guarantee a rocket scientist isn't going to go psycho after getting dumped and stalk his ex.

Or, one of his gamma ray experiments goes haywire, and whenever he gets angry, well, you wouldn't like him [orange.co.uk] when he's angry!

Too many daipers in the closet (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525205)

NASA are always worried about their image. They need to be to keep their funding. While the astronauts are far more visible than the people at JPL, JPLers doing the psycho diaper thing could still embarrass them.

Sure there are no guarantees, but some heavy-duty background checking does cut down on wierdos.

Another "Goodling Purge" (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525439)

This is just another excuse conservatives cooked up to start firing scientists. They start there, move on to the guys researching Global Warming, etc etc.

Conservatives HATE science. So OBVIOUSLY they are going to target organizations like NASA, the CDC, etc. The only scientists conservatives have room for is Christian Scientists.

Re:Very Inappropriate (1, Insightful)

Nikker (749551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525491)

Its amazing how paranoid the government is becoming, so when does Bush sign his agreement?

Easy fix (2, Funny)

PsyQo (1020321) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524687)

What do they want to do when no one signs this? Fire every scientist? Not going to happen.

Re:Easy fix (1)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524763)

What do they want to do when no one signs this? Fire every scientist? Not going to happen.


Hopefully it will work out like you mapped it. However, the white house figures if they throw out enough fud, they'll be able to bust solidarity and get enough to cave and sign in order to make it effective. I would hope a group of the best scientists in the world would be able to stick this fight out.

Re:Easy fix (1)

wattrlz (1162603) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524765)

Maybe, or maybe I should work on polishing up my resume.

Why not fire them all? (5, Insightful)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524773)

Easy fix indeed. Given the approach this country has taken to its scientists, I wouldn't be surprised if what you suggest will be exactly what happens - the scientists rebel, and promptly get fired en masse. Why? Because nobody cares.

Railroad workers, airline workers, even taxicab drivers - when any of these professions strike, it is felt immediately by the general population, so there is a push to resolve the issues amicably, so that they could return to work.

If all scientists in the US... not just the NASA rocket scientists... stop working RIGHT NOW... the vast majority of the population won't know, and the majority of those who know, won't care.

Why? Because nothing that these people do affects us EVERY DAY. Thus, they're not important. Which is why a post-doc at a top-tier academic institution, will be making <$32'000/year.

Oh no... obviously not important... (1)

hellfire (86129) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525001)

Oh definitely not affecting our every day lives [nasa.gov] .

I know you don't exactly drink Tang every day, but exactly what percentage of the United State's population do you think is affected by weather satellites?

Re:Oh no... obviously not important... (1)

MenTaLguY (5483) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525097)

What the GP is suggesting is that if scientists went on strike, weather satellites (for example) wouldn't immediately disappear. There would be a long-term impact, but it would take a long time to be felt.

Re:Oh no... obviously not important... (4, Informative)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525309)

How long would it take the average person to realize that the scientists had all walked out, though?

It's not like Tang would disappear, or their car's GPS system would suddenly turn off. It's just that things wouldn't advance. Progress would grind to a halt, but it's not like the immediate "oh shit" effect you get, when the garbagemen don't show up on Monday morning.

Probably the first thing most people would know is when they get told to start learning Mandarin, because their company just got bought.

Re:Oh no... obviously not important... (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525427)

All irrelevant to the average person who thinks about what needs to be done today and tomorrow, and maybe the next weekend.

If all the scientist dissapeared today, the repurcussions would be huge but not felt for several years or even decades.
As long as Oprah is still on and beer is flowing the majority won't care.

Re:Why not fire them all? (1)

enjo13 (444114) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525063)

By that logic Accounting Professors shouldn't be (largely) making more the $100k...yet they are ($150k and above at top tier schools). After all, they hardly affect people EVERY DAY.

The amount paid to these researchers is more about market economics than anything else. There are a lot of talented researchers (more supply) driving their salaries down. The same is not true for Accountants, as very few of them go on to get doctoral degrees (and fewer still choose to stay in academia). Their salaries are not AT ALL a reflection of how much people care about what they do.

Re:Why not fire them all? (2, Informative)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525211)

<blockquote>The amount paid to these researchers is more about market economics than anything else. There are a lot of talented researchers (more supply) driving their salaries down. The same is not true for Accountants, as very few of them go on to get doctoral degrees (and fewer still choose to stay in academia). Their salaries are not AT ALL a reflection of how much people care about what they do.</blockquote>
I live in New York City. We here have a state-sponsored monopoly known as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which manages the subway. A booth clerk who sells metro-cards, and directs customers (rudely) will make $54'000/year after 5 years... not including a hefty retirement package, and a medical benefits package for the entire family.
<br><br>
If salaries are only about market economics, then may I ask you a question:
<br><br>
- Is there a shortage of talented and qualified booth clerks in New York City?
<br><br>
Because I don't think there is. I think that the MTA union has power because they control the city's transportation, and when they strike, even a threat is enough to get the city to back down and give them more money. They have, in essence, been committing legalized extortion, for a while now.

Re:Why not fire them all? (1)

SmokeyTheBalrog (996551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525473)

That specific argument is flawed. Accounted Professors can get up and go be accountants, which do effect everyday life, so salaries to attract top Accountant Professors must be competitive.

Re:Why not fire them all? (1)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525075)

If all scientists in the US... not just the NASA rocket scientists... stop working RIGHT NOW... the vast majority of the population won't know, and the majority of those who know, won't care.
They might not care now, but they would in the future. The Bush administration is wacked up, but I have just a little bit of faith that it won't come to that. America is a big, old, resilient creature. Society itself has developed enough to where there are protections to keep from a crazy administration getting rid of the core of the scientific community. Mod me flame bait for being the least bit optimistic, I don't care. There is enough sense in the government at large (ie not the white house) to prevent this from happening. This will be fought.

Re:Why not fire them all? (4, Insightful)

rk (6314) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525197)

America is a big, old, resilient creature.
So were dinosaurs.

American Scientist Show (5, Funny)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525177)

Well, if we had a show, let's say called, American Scientist, that worked like American Idol, then, they'd care!

p/Just imagine that Simon guy saying, You call THAT data! Get out of here!"

Re:American Scientist Show (1)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525419)

Humourous and (sadly) accurate. Nice combo :D

They need a Union (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525371)

They need a union

Re:Why not fire them all? (3, Informative)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525423)

I work IT for a for profit research laboratory. We hire Lab Technicians with a BS at about $45,000 a year. When we hire PhD's it is for significantly more (although we haven't hired a new PhD since I started there, so I don't know what the going rate is for our post doc's). So those post doc's making less than $32,000 a year are either working at the wrong place or in the wrong field.

Re:Why not fire them all? (1)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525459)

I said "academic" which is where the VAST MAJORITY of researchers work.

In academic institutions, a technician with a BS will usually make as much or more than a post-doc with a PhD.

And to clarify, I am talking biomedical research here.

Re:Why not fire them all? (4, Insightful)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525499)

If all scientists in the US... not just the NASA rocket scientists... stop working RIGHT NOW... the vast majority of the population won't know, and the majority of those who know, won't care.

*Shrug* Who is John Galt?

Re:Easy fix (0, Offtopic)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524875)

Who the hell marked parent as "troll"? He may have been a little crass, but it was certainly not a trolling post...

Re:Easy fix (1)

Dominic_Mazzoni (125164) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524909)

What do they want to do when no one signs this? Fire every scientist? Not going to happen.

Unfortunately more than 90% of the roughly 5000 employees at JPL have already signed. Only a few hundred are actively protesting, and 28 are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

If the appeals court hadn't granted a preliminary injuction, they would already have lost their jobs. Despite the fact that they are irreplaceable, NASA would rather fire them rather than back down on these new invasions of privacy.

Re:Easy fix (5, Insightful)

Stanislav_J (947290) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525285)

Unfortunately more than 90% of the roughly 5000 employees at JPL have already signed. Only a few hundred are actively protesting, and 28 are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

We really have become a nation of sheep, haven't we? This is why our rights are going down the toilet, because most people simply do not care. It would be a vastly different story if that 90-10 ratio were reversed.

This reminds me of an incident (I'm going entirely on memory here) in the months after 9/11 in which some jurisdiction or other was conducting random bag/backpack searches of bus passengers. One guy filed a suit after refusing the search and being hauled in. In the article, it said that out of something like 1300 of these searches that had been conducted, fewer than half a dozen people objected or refused. When the populace has become that complacent and trusting, it's open season on the Constitution.

Re:Easy fix (1)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525467)

If I had mod points, you'd have one. We are collectively to blame for failing to restrict the excesses of our governments.

Re:Easy fix (2, Funny)

turgid (580780) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525463)

What do they want to do when no one signs this? Fire every scientist? Not going to happen.

That sounds a lot like Collective Bargaining... That just proves these scientists are unionized PINKO COMMIES, probably terrorists, and deserve to be fired to make way for patriotic ones.

Maybe the ESA will take them on for the Aurora project? /me ducks.

good for them (3, Interesting)

trybywrench (584843) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524705)

Good for them for standing up. My bets are on NASA changing the policy. The people at JPL are irreplaceable in the short term. I would think it would take decades to replace a seasoned JPL engineer with a new comer. I'm sure NASA knows this and isn't about to fire a bunch right out.

Re:good for them (2, Insightful)

blueskies (525815) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525393)

I'm sure NASA knows this and isn't about to fire a bunch right out.
You have a lot of misplaced faith in gov't bureaucracies.

Re:good for them (3, Informative)

gclef (96311) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525445)

NASA doesn't have a choice. HSPD12 (which is causing this) is a Presidential Directive (hence the "PD" in HSPD12). All Executive Branch agencies are required to comply.

Now, whether HSPD12 itself is f'ing stupid is a whole other ball of wax.

Ridiculous (5, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524711)

All of this is done in the name of "protect[ing] personal privacy."

If that doesn't shed light on the fact that this is complete and utter nonsense, I don't know what will. As the article pointed out, that's Newspeak if I ever heard it.

Re:Ridiculous (2, Informative)

idontgno (624372) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525217)

The problem isn't a nonsensical sentence.

The problem is that you're using a faulty definition of "privacy". [arstechnica.com]

The correct definition of privacy is "You divulge all the details of your life to the government, and the government protects it for you. From everyone. Except itself, of course. But you have nothing to fear from your government. After all, we're here to help you."

Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (4, Insightful)

phoebusQ (539940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524735)

Having worked in the military and civilian worlds on sensitive and not-so-sensitive projects involving technology, this is not really news. This is a consequence of working with the government, and frankly, it doesn't bother me all that much.

Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI. In the end, while maybe not ideal for the potential employee, I find nothing significantly reprehensible about the process.

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (4, Insightful)

phoebusQ (539940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524851)

Sorry for replying to myself, but I just wanted to add that I do still admire these folks for standing up to their employer. If they feel they are being taken advantage of, then they should go for it. Oh, and to the person who modded me troll, Troll != "I don't agree". Sigh.

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (4, Insightful)

Yokaze (70883) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524877)

I think you missed several points:
You applied for the FBI and had your past checked in matters and ways very likely specifically laid out to you once before you get hired.
They already work for the government in non-sensitive areas and have to sign away their right on any privacy because of arbitrary unspecified background checks at will.

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (4, Insightful)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524921)

Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI. In the end, while maybe not ideal for the potential employee, I find nothing significantly reprehensible about the process.

Hmmmm.

Let's see - Federal Bureau of Investigation. Investigates, what? Oh, CRIME, TERRORISM, stuff like that.

And who? NASA? What are they doing? Just exploring the universe.

Sorry - NASA and the FBI are completely different. What we are seeing is just another aspect of the creeping fascism in American life, and yet another example of why I left the Empire.

And your offhand "Oh, this is no big deal" IDIOCY is just the exact kind of blithe ignorance that enables these fascist creeps in their unending grasp for power.

And it is just that kind of blithe ignorance that forms Yet Another reason why I left the Empire.

RS

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (1, Insightful)

phoebusQ (539940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525011)

Perhaps you didn't notice that the article is talking about the JPL, where a lot of very sensitive, espionage-sensitive technology is developed and worked on. Or maybe your rush to sarcasm and hyperbole clouded your judgment. This is not ignorance; far from it, this attitude comes from extensive, up-close-and-personal familiarity with these processes and the considerations behind them.

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (1)

Derekloffin (741455) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525183)

And perhaps you missed the "None of them even work on anything classified or defense related" which kinda invalidates your point.

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (1)

phoebusQ (539940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525215)

It doesn't matter if it's not defense-related. There is plenty of non-defense sensitive information. In addition, anyone at JPL could be exposed, or have access to, a significant amount of classified material. Compartmentalization can only go so far in such an organization.

Is this definitely justified? Not necessarily. However, it does not warrant a knee-jerk "The JBTs are taking away our privacy!" either.

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (2, Insightful)

Derekloffin (741455) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525361)

I could be exposed to sensitive information now, that doesn't give the government a right to look in on me because their security sucks so much that the cleaning staff can access classified documents! There are limits, and this is beyond them, and frankly stupid to start with (if it's classified it damn well better be properly secured, background checks of the staff won't help it get secured).

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (1)

bkr1_2k (237627) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525395)

Yet Another reason why I left the Empire.

Whatever, Luke. You know he's your father right?

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (2, Interesting)

BlueMerle (1161489) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524991)

Heck, you wouldn't believe the background checks I went through for the FBI. In the end, while maybe not ideal for the potential employee, I find nothing significantly reprehensible about the process.

Normally I tend to lean a little to the right on most issues, but this bothers me.

It's one thing for this level of investigation for people in law enforcement, at any level, that have the right to arrest and detain people. And also have the right to shoot under certain circumstances.

But for the rest of the government workers I don't see the need and believe that it is a violation of privacy. I have no problem with a thorough background check and an annual re-cert, if you will, but going to the extreme serves no purpose.

Some people will crack after a divorce and some will sell secrets. You find these tendencies with a psych. exam, as normal spats with spouses or even sexual orientation cannot be correlated with the "evil doers".

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (1)

bkr1_2k (237627) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525479)

I have no problem with a thorough background check and an annual re-cert, if you will, but going to the extreme serves no purpose.

Some people will crack after a divorce and some will sell secrets. You find these tendencies with a psych. exam, as normal spats with spouses or even sexual orientation cannot be correlated with the "evil doers".


Hate to disappoint you but that's what a normal "thorough background check and annual re-cert" (which happens every 5 years, not annually) entails.

As for finding "evil doers", those are impossible. The point of the background searches is to find people who may have secrets of their own they'd like to hide and are therefor compromisable such that they can be blackmailed more easily into selling secrets they wouldn't otherwise intend to sell because they are not "evil doers".

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525109)

no, it's the way that a bunch of limp wristed liberal bitches can complain about the government. you won't see this same kind of story being posted if it were democrats doing the same thing.

Re:Welcome to every sensitive government job ever. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525131)

This is a consequence of working with the government,

Well, I sure hope my postman is kept under 24/7 surveillance. It's hard to even imagine the full extent of the horrors that he could unleash on the world if he were allowed to become subverted.

Seriously, though, I agree with you that there are some government jobs that require extensive (and possibly ongoing) background checks but there are also other government jobs that don't. In the case of JPL scientists, I really just don't see the point - other than to subtly discredit the academic perspective (which tends to be deeply critical of the Bush administration).

JPL!=government & 9th circuit already blocked (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525325)

(insert standard diatribe about clueless slashdot editors and even-more-clueless slashdot readers/commentors)

1. JPL is not the government
2. the scientists this would have applied to are the subset of JPL employees who do not work with classified material
3. many of this subset of JPL employees specifically elected years ago not to work with classified material because they didn't want to go through the clearance processes
4. all the way back in October the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit blocked (URL:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/06/AR2007100601372.html/) this directive thereby obsolescing the portion of submitter's summary claim that these scientists were in danger of being fired at any moment for not having signed the permission slips by the due date.

good for them (0, Redundant)

trybywrench (584843) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524749)

Good for them for standing up. My bets are on NASA changing the policy since the people at JPL are irreplaceable in the short term. I think it would take decades for a newcomer to become as productive as a seasoned JPL engineer. I'm sure NASA knows this and isn't about to fire a bunch right out.

heh having said that, woe unto any grunt sys-admin or underling thinking their moral stand is going to mean anything when there's 30 in line behind them to gladly take their place.

Not very objective, are we? (4, Insightful)

Lucas123 (935744) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524753)

I mean, background checks like this probably would have exluded most of the scientists who came over from Germany for the Manhattan Project.

Re:Not very objective, are we? (2, Insightful)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524845)

I mean, background checks like this probably would have exluded most of the scientists who came over from Germany for the Manhattan Project.

Exactly! Creative types like scientists and engineers probably tend to have less than conventional personal lives. I really don't think anyone needs to go poking into that and so killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Re:Not very objective, are we? (2, Insightful)

sarahbau (692647) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524871)

Not to mention Wernher von Braun, who was largely responsible for NASA's early success.

Re:Not very objective, are we? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525033)

They were locked up for the first year after they defected to the US... forced to work on-site behind a fence.

NASA, the bureaucracy (3, Insightful)

Facetious (710885) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524757)

When I was a young man I had, like many kids, aspirations of becoming an astronaut or otherwise working in the space exploration industry. My goals began to change as I watched NASA go from the world's best research agency (IMHO) to a politically correct institution lacking any cohesive vision.

Wait... (1)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524799)

Doesn't the government do this anyway? I thought it was called the Patriot Act?

I'd be surprised if any of them haven't already had all of the records examined by the government.

If you don't like it, leave your govt. job. (0, Flamebait)

Zymergy (803632) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524817)

How can Americans really be concerned about this?
-Try getting a job for the US Postal Service or even try to enlist into the US Military; -There are significant background checks, waivers, and forms required.
Waiving certain 4th (and probably 5th) Amendment privacy rights are part of said employment for the government. If you do not like it, leave the job.
Much of what JPL does is subject to espionage and/or industrial espionage not to mention they certainly need access to classified information and technologies (for example: the positions/orbits & maneuverabilities of US Spy satellites and other 'stuff' in orbit), consider JPL's missions and its history: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/fact_sheets/jpl.pdf [nasa.gov]

If you can't pass the background checks, get a job elsewhere. It should be a privilege to work for the JPL and the cutting edge research and technological achievements it creates. Besides, this is a US Government entity, not a civilian corporation.
Your rights to privacy CANNOT be more important than National Security. Even IF said employees can't see why.
I'd wager that the Janitors and Maids in the White House MUST PASS a thorough security clearance to perform their 'non-classified' work as well. And someone at a higher pay grade likely has very good reasons for the security requirements as they are, and rocket scientists need background checks too.

Re:If you don't like it, leave your govt. job. (4, Insightful)

ianare (1132971) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524977)

Your rights to privacy CANNOT be more important than National Security.
You do realize this is exactly the line of reasoning that got us into the illegal wiretaps. Rights to privacy have to be balanced against national security ... one should not be vastly more important than the other.

Re:If you don't like it, leave your govt. job. (1)

Zymergy (803632) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525157)

If the wiretaps were on EVERYONE in the US, I tend to agree. BUT we are talking about ROCKET SCIENTISTS employed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory! These are not your 'garden variety' employees at any given company.
JPL is involved with (among other things): Missie technologies (easily modified into ICBMs), precise guidance systems, the future of the US space program, nuclear reactor technologies, bleeding edge telescopes, and remote sensing technologies, etc..
Also, I would be shocked if current JPL Employees were not ALREADY under employment-conditional security agreements. Reads like they are exercising them now and some are angry.

Re:If you don't like it, leave your govt. job. (4, Interesting)

jcdick1 (254644) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525101)

Your rights to privacy CANNOT be more important than National Security.


Given that this position is a philosophical one, I would argue that a need for national security over personal privacy indicates a fundamental flaw in either:

1. the nation's gov't, or
2. the society that exists within that nation's borders.

But it certainly is not an absolute.

Re:If you don't like it, leave your govt. job. (1)

FuzzyDaddy (584528) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525105)

It should be a privilege to work for the JPL

Why, they shouldn't even have to pay them.

As an expert in abusive management... (5, Interesting)

palladiate (1018086) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524833)

As an expert at abusive management during the failing days at Krispy Kreme, this sounds like they want the employees to quit. I've seen this happen too many times.

Say, if I was really callous and sociopathic, and I wanted to scale back operations and cut costs, I wouldn't fire or lay off anyone. I would require the employees to do things they wouldn't tolerate, but seem "necessary and proper" for their jobs. I'd switch reporting to 4:00am so that reports would be ready for management, give 3 hour lunches to people who live too far away to commute home for lunch, or other highly inconvenient tasks or requirements.

When they quit, you didn't have to report to investors you were scaling back operations, just that you couldn't fill the positions. Then you could cut the positions and claim better productivity.

If I wanted to scale NASA's budget back, and not catch tons of flak, I would do this. When the researchers refused to comply, I could just say "They're a security risk, we're all about security after 9/11, so you can't work on 90% of projects." When they quit, or I fired them for not complying, I could just say "We have a shortage of qualified engineers, we can't fill these positions."

And when nobody cared anymore, I'd scale back operations and cut the positions, shrinking the budget. It's a great way to handle a budget crisis and cut without making it look like one.

Re:As an expert in abusive management... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21524953)

When they quit, you didn't have to report to investors you were scaling back operations, just that you couldn't fill the positions. Then you could cut the positions and claim better productivity.

When it costs you more to fight suits over constructive dismissal than it would have to offer early retirement, your management style might not be well-appreciated by your own managers. When it's just peons in the trenches, you just fire them.

If I wanted to scale NASA's budget back, and not catch tons of flak, I would do this.

Except they did catch flak. Tons of it.

Re:As an expert in abusive management... (1)

mrhandstand (233183) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525127)

Heh. Callous management. You should check out Snakes in Suits (http://www.amazon.com/Snakes-Suits-When-Psychopaths-Work/dp/0061147893/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196375725&sr=8-1) - its about psychopaths in management. Apparently they are ~3 times as common in executive as in the population at large...

Re:As an expert in abusive management... (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525271)

A distasteful but accurate name for this strategy is called the "Kevorkian."

that reminds me..... (1, Funny)

pablo_max (626328) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524837)

That reminds me of my last company. Several people complained that they had to submit to cavity searches each day after work.
Of course, it was not until much later that they found out the guy giving them was in no way affiliated with the company. ;)

Re:that reminds me..... (1)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525151)

WORST. DENTAL PLAN. EVER.

What if (4, Interesting)

Alexx K (1167919) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524853)

Why are these investigations even needed? I mean, will he be fired, for example, if Joe Scientist is gay? Libertarian? Doesn't read the bible? Anti-bush? Anti-war? Prefers german Cars? Doesn't believe in Santa Claus? Prefers Pepsi? Etc.

Re:What if (0)

phoebusQ (539940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524913)

Let's take the Gay thing as an example, since sexual orientation is probably one of the seemingly least-germane applications of a background check.

In cases of espionage, one of the most common agents for a case worker to run is the significant other of a sensitive party. If there appears to be a leak, counter-intelligence assets are going to check up on potential lovers of employees. Knowing sexual orientation helps to know who to look at. In many cases (I don't know about this one), employees are even required to report relationships to the chain of command.

Blackmail (2, Informative)

noldrin (635339) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525315)

The reason they want to know if you are gay is they want to determine if you are hiding anything that someone could use as blackmail against you. If you say in the interview that you are not gay, and they find evidence saying you are gay, then they will fear that someone could blackmail secrets out of you. On the other hand you say that you are gay and they find evidence that you are gay, then that isn't a national security threat as no one can blackmail you.

The problem is that the Bush-Ashcroft era had a tradition of firing homosexuals, this in turned encouraged people to hide their homosexuality, which creates potential blackmail material. Thus this practice of the government persecuting gays in government jobs and the military is a giant potential threat to national security.

Wernher von Braun would have failed this check (1)

Picass0 (147474) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524865)

Of course, the background checks are being conducted by his old bosses.

Obviously they're ashamed (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21524905)


Some likely things that would be found among these 28:

7 are having electronic-only relationships or affairs in a MMORPG
3 are furries
2 use slide rules when planning their order at McDonald's
4 only wear glasses in public and at work (to look smarter)
5 Either dance or do karaoke very badly
1 wears diapers (but only for play)

Even if (1)

medge_42 (173874) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524907)

Even if they had worked in defense, doesn't the US defense forces have a policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" when it comes to sexual orientation?

Re:Even if (1)

phoebusQ (539940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524957)

The military itself does, while civilian DoD does not. That said, questions of sexual orientation are likely not about "we don't want gay scientists", but rather that "we want to know who employees might be relating to, so that we know who to check when we seem to have a leak".

McCarthyism - again? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21524943)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism [wikipedia.org] - but who are we afraid of now? 50 years later? Some Taliban "freedom fighter" adding an IED to the next Mars Rover?

Gimme a break.

Where's Tom Cruise? (1)

ncryptd (1172815) | more than 6 years ago | (#21524975)

Were it made ten years later, I'd suspect this to be great viral advertising for the movie Gattaca. Unfortunately, it's not -- it's just another step towards abolishing personal privacy. One small step...

Privacy isn't for those at the federal trough (0)

MSTCrow5429 (642744) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525055)

You work for the government, you live off of the taxpayers, you're owned by the government. If you want privacy, go get a real job. Otherwise, stop whining.

Re:Privacy isn't for those at the federal trough (1)

FuzzyDaddy (584528) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525173)

If you want privacy, go get a real job.

So, by your logic, you can be owned by a private company.

Re:Privacy isn't for those at the federal trough (1)

MSTCrow5429 (642744) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525259)

I think you are willfully missing the point between living off of taxpayers (i.e. us) and living off of producing goods and service people will voluntarily purchase. Basically, you're trolling.

Re:Privacy isn't for those at the federal trough (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525265)

I think it's a bit more complex than that. The lady who answers the phones for some senator should not have to sign away major Constitutional rights just to make $28K a year. There is a reasonable middle ground between private sector employment and white collar slavery. By your reasoning, anyone who isn't self-employed (apparently the only 'real job') would be considered as 'owned' by their employer. These folks are being given a clear Hobson's choice [wikipedia.org] here.

Now we've started, let's go the whole way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525057)

Don't leave a job unfinished - two down [city-data.com] but many more to go!

Western democracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525091)

Sometimes I really wonder what has happened to the good old "Western Democracy"?
Grewing up in the former "Eastern Block", in the shadow of the former Nazi state, Western Democracy sounded like a pretty good deal.
I just wonder, what the hell has happened to those principles? Wasn't the reason for fighting WWII and the Cold War to preserve the good old "Western Democracy"?
I must have missed something lately: when was good old Western Democracy declared dead? By whom? Has the public ever been informed? I mean, when did the public discussion and consent took place to retire good old "Western Democracy"?
What was it replaced with? This NASA stuff sound way too familiar from history, but not under "Western Democracy"...

In related news... (4, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525093)

28 senior NASA scientists and engineers, including Mars Rover team members, all updated the "foes" section of their Facebook profile this afternoon.

NASA (1)

hackus (159037) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525143)

I would like to remind everyone here that NASA is NOT a civilian space agency, it a branch of the Department of Defense and if you read the charter you shouldn't be surprised at all about this.

Why do people apply for jobs at a organization, and yet have NO CLUE about who they are working for?

-Hack

Re:NASA (1)

u-235-sentinel (594077) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525329)

I would like to remind everyone here that NASA is NOT a civilian space agency, it a branch of the Department of Defense and if you read the charter you shouldn't be surprised at all about this.

Why do people apply for jobs at a organization, and yet have NO CLUE about who they are working for?


This is why I won't work for the government or military anymore. After over two years working as a civilian contractor, I drove in, sat down at my desk and ready to get working when my supervisor said I was no longer employed as of that moment. Several of us were let go that day. Not because of poor performance as my review from only two months prior was excellent and I was asked not to quit even! We were doing excellent work!

The problem I had was the military wanted to save a few bucks for some war on the other side of the world, so they were eliminating positions. You would think at least two weeks notice as common courtesy. Oh well... It was a great learning experience but never again.

Re:NASA (2, Informative)

phoebusQ (539940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525415)

You mean this part of the charter?

"The Congress further declares that such activities shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, a civilian agency exercising control over aeronautical and space activities sponsored by the United States, except that activities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States (including the research and development necessary to make effective provision for the defense of the United States) shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, the Department of Defense; and that determination as to which such agency has responsibility for and direction of any such activity shall be made by the President in conformity with section 2471(e)."

Because it sure sounds to me like they are separate entities, and that NASA is, by the definition of its charter, a civilian agency. That's not to say I necessarily disagree with the background checks, but your facts are wrong.

How long before (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525165)

all that data gets stolen? I bet max 2 years.

Well (1)

no-body (127863) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525175)

it's essentailly 1984 ** 10

If this kind of crap is going on, the country will snap!

About 50 years ago, it was Russia in top repression, searching people's luggage entering their borders, secrete police on the next corne; now US is severely going there and Russia is coming up again - not even talking about muslim countries, Far East or South America.

Maybe it's global warming heating some heads too much so they start to malfunction.

Freedom? Yukk, my ass!

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525221)

it's essentailly 1984 ** 10
19840?

Re:Well (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525367)

If this kind of crap is going on, the country will snap!

Oh get over yourself.

No one will snap. The populace is fat and content and nothing indicates this is likely to shift anytime soon. Their masters have an iron grip on entertainment and "information". Every so often, some misguided bleeding-hearts are allowed to kick up a fuss for the 9 o'clock news about some irrelevant niche issue that no one really cares enough about to remember past the next commercial.

The revolution will not be televised because there won't be one.

Avoiding a repeat... (1)

lpangelrob (714473) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525179)

They're probably trying to avoid a repeat of the whole "astronaut with diapers travels 1,000 miles to beat up other astronaut's lover" fiasco, which itself was misreported to the hills. This would not be the best way to go about it — sanity is one of those things that you can probably assume (to the point that they can still function in their job) for 99.5% of the general population.

Or maybe this is emergency C.Y.A. by NASA (1)

sh33333p (1186531) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525219)

My bet is that the govt. already started these investigations, without permission, and is now trying to preempt any potential fallout by coercing NASA employees into signing consent forms. It certainly would be in line with other recent illegal spying activity. Oh crap, I think I just added myself to the no fly list...

So what? (2, Insightful)

bkr1_2k (237627) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525307)

Welcome to the world of security clearances. NASA routinely works on things that have a sensitive nature, if for no other reason than "technology export concerns". Why is this even news?

New employer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21525327)

I am sure the 'Russian Federal Space Agency' or the 'European Space Agency' would be interested.

It seems to me.... (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525385)

It seems to me that both defence related and/or national security related projects would require this kind of action. However what a lot of posters are missing are the opportunities for industrial espionage possible when working for NASA, particularly in the highly lucrative aerospace sector. One might argue that economic interests are also the national interest and hence subject to national security considerations. However, not knowing much about NASA in general, I wouldn't know where you should draw the line.

astronauts first (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 6 years ago | (#21525469)

we already have a documented case of one of THEM around the bend and threatening somebody else. no cases known among JPL, where the equipment works better than bid.
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