WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. lawmakers are slamming new rules requiring background checks for federal employees, which have provoked a lawsuit from NASA scientists.
Last week 28 senior researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California -- none of whom does work requiring a security clearance -- filed a lawsuit, claiming waivers they were required to sign to get new, secure IDs, violated their constitutional rights.
"We must make sure that any intrusion into the privacy of those who work at JPL -- or any other lab -- is narrowly tailored to meet the government's security interest and goes no further," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told United Press International. "Otherwise, we will discourage the nation's best and brightest from joining the workforce."
Under President Bush's Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, promulgated in 2004, all federal departments and agencies have to issue new secure IDs to their employees and contractors that will grant them access to U.S. government buildings and computer networks.
But as part of the issuance process for the new "smart" cards, employees are required to sign a broad waiver allowing investigators to look at their employment, financial and medical histories, and to question friends and colleagues about their psychological health, political background and sexual proclivities.
The new requirements apply even to those employees who have no access to classified information and who do not require a security clearance.
The lawsuit says the 2004 presidential directive was supposed to be only about establishing common ID standards across the federal government and "contemplates no additional background investigation or suitability determination beyond that already required by law."
Schiff told UPI that privacy interests and the need for a free flow of information to assist scientific inquiry had to be balanced "against legitimate security needs."
"I am not satisfied that it has been done here. The broad privacy waivers that are being required of scientists working on non-sensitive matters must be re-examined and if not justified, must be reined back."
Shaun Waterman, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor