Judge Won't Block NASA Background Checks

LOS ANGELES (AP) ? Afederal judge denied a request Wednesday by more than two dozen workers at oneof NASA's research labs to block a Bush administration directive requiringbackground checks and access to personal information.

A group of 28 employees atthe Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said the new security checks invaded theirprivacy, and sued in August to overturn the requirements.

NASA maintained it wasfollowing a government-wide policy applying to millions of civil servants andcontractors.

The lab workers have untilFriday to fill out forms authorizing the background checks. Those who don'twill be barred from the 177-acre campus east of Los Angeles and be ?voluntarily terminated'' as of Oct. 27.

About 4,100 of the 5,000employees have begun the process, though Dan Stormer, the attorney for theemployees who sued, said he will file an emergency appeal with the 9th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday.

The workers have complainedthe requirement allowed investigators to delve into medical records andquestion friends about everything from their finances to sex lives. Attorneysfor NASA have argued the release form was not intrusive.

?The argument thatplaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm by signing an authorization form iswithout merit,'' U.S. District Judge Otis Wright wrote in a 17-page order.

The judge noted that workerswho lose their jobs for refusing to submit to a background check can appeal toa three-person panel. He also rejected plaintiffs' claims that the checksviolated their 4th Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizureand 14th Amendment rights to due process.

Wright's decision comes twodays after he told both sides that he had been inclined to issue a partial preliminaryinjunction that would bar NASA from asking lab workers during backgroundchecks whether they had ever used illegal drugs.

?I don't want to see theseemployees hurt ... but I want the security of this nation preserved,'' Wrightsaid Monday. ?I don't want any sleepers infiltrating NASA or JPL.''

Wright ultimately ruled thegovernment had shown that workers' response to the drug use question will notbe used against them in any criminal case.

Stormer said the backgroundchecks amounted to ?fear-mongering.''

?We believe this policy isan attempt to rule by fear and the Constitution prohibits it,'' Stormer said.

Charles Miller, a spokesmanfor the Justice Department, which represents NASA, said they were pleased withthe decision and declined further comment.

A 2004 presidentialdirective ordered every government agency to step up security to theirfacilities and computer systems by issuing new identification badges toemployees. To obtain the new cards, workers have to be fingerprinted, undergo abackground check and sign a waiver allowing federal investigators access topersonal information.

The workers who sued wereemployees of the California Institute of Technology, which manages the lab forNASA under contract. None works on top-secret projects, but several are seniorscientists and engineers on high-profile missions including the Galileo probeto Jupiter and the Cassini spacecraft toSaturn.

In June, several workersunsuccessfully appealed to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, who visited thelab on unrelated business. Griffin saidhe would carry out the presidential order unless it was overturned in court.

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