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NASA boffins resist intrusive security probe

Space brainboxes in sex-snoop vetting lawsuit

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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.

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