Background Checks at NASA Lab Blocked

By John Antczak
Associated Press
Sunday, October 7, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- A federal appeals court on Friday blocked a Bush administration directive requiring background checks and access to personal information of employees of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which some contend amounts to an invasion of privacy.

The JPL employees had until Friday to comply with the directive or face the possibility of losing their jobs. They would have been required to fill out questionnaires and submit a waiver allowing the investigations.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued the emergency temporary injunction requested by the 28 employees after a lower court denied the request Wednesday. The lab, managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, has about 5,000 employees.

"As far as we can determine in the short time available, appellants likely raise serious legal and constitutional questions and show the probability of irreparable harm. What is quite clear is that the balance of hardships tips strongly in their favor," the court said.

The order noted that most of the appellants have worked many years for the lab, which is chiefly known for its scientific explorations of the solar system and study of Earth.

NASA has maintained it is following a government-wide policy applying to millions of civil servants and contractors. An after-hours call to the Justice Department, which represents NASA in the lawsuit, was not answered.

"We're really very happy," said plaintiff Robert Nelson, leader of NASA's New Millennium Program, which tests or validates new technology that NASA will use in space.

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