NASA boffins resist intrusive security probe
Space brainboxes in sex-snoop vetting lawsuit
A group of cheesed-off American space boffins are resisting new security procedures, implemented in the wake of 9/11, which require them to submit to background checks.
Recent reports indicate that a group of 28 employees at NASA's famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)* have mounted a lawsuit intended to prevent NASA from forcing them to submit to the provisions of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, an executive order emanating from President Bush and dating from 2004.
The Presidential Directive requires that federal employees - in order to be issued with new, mandated security badges - be fingerprinted, fill in questionnaires and authorise security probes into their backgrounds. The JPL group says that this allows offensively intrusive snooping into such things as their sexual history and medical records.
The alternative to compliance is dismissal. The LA Times quotes NASA chief Michael Griffin, stating that anyone who didn't fall into line would have to hit the road.
"We will miss those folks," he said.
"That is their choice."
Dan Stormer, a lawyer representing the JPL protesters, was naturally scathing about the measures.
"Our clients are exemplary employees who have spent their work lives bettering this country. This attack on their right to privacy will not be tolerated," he said, adding that the measures were "despicable".
NASA spokesmen said that all the other NASA employees didn't seem to mind, and nor did thousands of other workers on the federal payroll, also subject to the badging scheme.
The grumpy JPL boffins disagreed, suggesting that lots of people would refuse to bend over for a federal microscoping.
"I am truly appalled," said Dennis Byrnes, chief flight dynamics engineer at JPL, one of the protesters.
"Many will flee government service."
Susan Foster, a technical author at JPL, said she would definitely resign rather than sign. Byrnes and the other members of the group didn't commit themselves, however.®
*More famous in recent times for its work on planetary space probes such as Voyager and Cassini than for jet engines.
Why are they broad? Because you never know what will turn up, and need to be followed up upon. Even surface skims can turn up behavior that needs further investigation. I mentioned above that I have some incredible stories about the kinds of people that seek clearances - Including people that list their *drug dealers* as security references. Yes, that really happened in at least one case of which I am personally aware. So, even though the HSPD-12 is a minimally invasive surface scan, only capable of finding the most obvious of criminal behavior, sometimes obvious (and oblivious) criminals seek clearance.
Thus, the broad waivers - if you're a stupid criminal, and get caught on the HSPD-12, you not only deserve what you get, but you can also NOT claim that you didn't authorize the investigation.
If the investigation is so minimal, why is the waiver so broad?
Somebody wrote: "This just shows that PhDs can be total idiots, just like the rest of us. The type of investigation required for HSPD-12 is minimally invasive. Fingerprints do have to be checked by the FBI, but unless you're a wanted felon, you have nothing to fear."
And laird cummings wrote: "Anyway, as noted, the HSPD-12 is indeed a minor surface skim, and will only catch the most obvious of illegal behavior. If these bozos are scared of *that,* they really DO need to be let go."
If they really intend to perform only a minimal check, then it should be OK if we just sign a much narrower waiver, one that lets them perform whatever investigation is required for the minimal check. (Indeed, most of us have already done that, when our background was checked for a NAC.)
Instead, they want us to sign a waiver that authorizes a far broader fishing expedition than that, and they won't let us make any modifications to the waiver that would limit it to the minimal investigation you describe. I presume the reason they insist on the broader waiver is not that they plan to tear it up and throw the pieces in the fire -- they want that waiver because they at least *might* use the broad authority it grants them. And that's one of the reasons we don't want to sign it.
HSPD-12 is minimally invasive - The NASA implementation is maximally invasive
The NASA implementation REQUIRES a VOLUNTARY waiver of ALL privacy rights, period. So voluntary that you lose your job if you do not grant the blanket privacy waiver.
HSPD-12 itself ONLY REQUIRES a uniform and verifiable ID.
Mr Griffin chose this maximally invasive implementation and requested that it be extended to everyone, not just those covered by the original request.