U.S. Supreme Court Issues Ruling in Background Screening Case

By Teresa Anderson

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a background screening program used by a government agency does not violate employee privacy rights.

In the case, 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.

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, part of the background screening includes “open-ended questions” asked to encourage sources to reveal any adverse information about a person’s “employment, residence, or activities.”

(For more background on this case, see "U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Background Screening Case.")

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.

NASA v Nelson SCOTUS.pdf261.8 KB


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