Posts tagged ‘jpl’

Schneier on the JPL Screenings

You know you’re onto something when Bruce Schneier picks it up and calls it “a big deal.” He found a much more eloquent article on the topic, however.

JPL Privacy Problems, Part 3

I previously wrote about how JPL employees are being forced to let the government intrusively investigate their private lives or lose their jobs. Well, now there are a couple dozen senior employees who are suing JPL and NASA to fight back. The “press release” has a lot of unnecessary Bush-bashing (Bush’s original Directive seems fairly reasonable; the problem is how NASA has been executing it, since they’re trying to do all sorts of things it doesn’t require), but it has some really nice links at the bottom to more official documents. Moreover, this is starting to be picked up in the mainstream press. It’s nice to see that some JPL employees are fighting this, and even nicer to see that people are taking notice.

$\sqrt {x_1 + \sqrt {x_2 + \sqrt {x_3 + \ldots}}}$

Bonus nerd points to anyone who gets the reference in the title.

The story so far: three honors students on the Duke lacrosse team were accused of rape after attending a party at which a stripper claimed to be gangbanged. The media dragged them through the mud, talking about how horrible they were to rape this girl. Two years later, they were proven wholly innocent of any wrongdoing (mostly because they left the party before the rape purportedly occurred, and the DNA evidence did not point to them in any way whatsoever). Now, the head prosecutor for the case has been disbarred due to unethical conduct during the trial. He was apparently running for public office, and wanted to use the case to show how he’d crack down on crime. He frequently told the media how he was going to make life horrible for these guys, and then proceeded to hide the results of the DNA test from the defense attorneys for months because it would have shown that they were not in any way guilty. I’m glad to see this has happened and former district attorney Mike Nifong plans to accept the disbarment as a fair consequence of his actions.

There seems to be some push-back about my previous allegations that it was an invasion of privacy to require all government labs employees (even those without security clearance) to submit to investigations of their medical, military and financial records. When pressed on the issue, I argued that it seemed wrong because it unnecessarily pries into one’s personal life. Well, an employee at JPL has written a much more eloquent discussion of it to his congressman. In it, he claims that the Privacy Act of 1974 makes it illegal for a government agency to obtain these records without voluntary written consent, and these people have been given the choice “of either waiving our rights as guaranteed by law and the Constitution, or losing our jobs.” He furthermore states that this will have a chilling effect on the workplace environment because it sets the precedent that the government can come in and request any records it wants for no particular reason. Goddard Space Center employees are similarly disconcerted, and further echo that this “consent” to private records is hardly voluntary and borders on coercion.

I can understand that it’s important to have in-depth investigations into anyone who is granted clearance to work on sensitive material, and that it’s important to only allow people with clearance to have access to this information, but it sounds like this investigation is not going to grant anyone such clearance (though those who already had it are likely to keep it). I still don’t see how the government can request this of citizens that it will not treat as having special clearance: if you want to screen these people, give them clearance (which comes with a $10,000/year raise, which the government is loathe to grant), or treat them like the ordinary citizens as which they have been classified and accord them all rights to which they are entitled by law (take that, preposition danglers!).

Back to my roots

Even though my blog is (edit: formerly) titled “Civil Liberties and World News,” I haven’t posted on either of these subjects in a month and a half. It’s time to return to that theme.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has started calling for the closure of Guantanamo. I fear it won’t be closed until we have a new president (and possibly not even then), but it’s nice to see that more people are standing up and saying that everyone should have a right to a trial. Moreover, a recent court decision stated that the US cannot indefinitely hold prisoners without trial. It would be fantastic if this kept up momentum. We’ll see what happens.

Also, the Massachusetts legislature defeated a proposed amendment to ban gay marriage (if the measure had passed, it would have gone to a public vote in 2008). There’s one tricky part left, though: a law almost a century old that states that non-Massachusetts residents can’t get married there unless the marriage would be legal in their home state. This was originally intended to fight interracial marriages. Let’s hope this law gets repealed soon!

In more worrying news, minorninth writes that national labs (including JPL) are putting tighter security clearances on all employees, including janitors and secretaries. They are now required to disclose drug use (edit: apparently this is currently legal, although many people think it shouldn’t be), financial records, their armed services numbers, and other totally inappropriate things. If you actually work on a sensitive project, there’s even more: they want to know about your international vacations and medical history (edit: upon further inspection, this looks like this part might actually be an acceptable thing, too, since these people have been granted special clearance by the government). The worst part about this is that the mainstream media doesn’t seem to be picking up the story at all, which is really too bad. I hope more people find out about this before this becomes the de rigeur.