U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Background Screening Case

By Teresa Anderson

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a background screening case in which 28 employees of the California Institute of Technology, under contract to do work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), claim that the government’s screening policy is too intrusive. The policy was implemented in 2004 under a government homeland security directive.

In the case (Nelson v. NASA, .pdf attached below), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the policy of conducting background screening on existing, low-security contract employees was too invasive. The policy allows the government to collect any information from any source including schools, former employers, businesses, and personal friends. According to the government’s policy, sources are encourages to reveal any adverse information about a person’s “employment, residence, or activities.”

The appeals court ruled that the background screening requirements raise privacy issues and do not seem to further the government’s legitimate interests because they target existing, low-level employees, some of whom have worked for the same company for more than 20 years.

The government appealed the appellate ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. In their request that the Court hear the case, the Department of Justice argued that the decision has far-reaching consequences for background screening and homeland security.

The request noted that former President George W. Bush issued the homeland security directive in question “in response to concerns that arose after September 11, 2001, about individuals gaining access to federal facilities through identification fraud.” The request further noted that the Department of Commerce and NASA determined that a good way to ensure the security of federal facilities was to require that all contract employees be subjected to the new screening policy.

♦ Photo by ken mccown/Flickr

Nelson_v_NASA.pdf118.64 KB


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