According to The New York Times, a group of current and former scientists working, or that worked, with NASA are mulling over a lawsuit against the space agency. One would imagine that the suit stems from the fact that a NASA laptop computer, which was not protected with laptop encryption software like AlertBoot, was stolen about a month ago.
But it looks like the issue goes further back, when a group of NASA employees filed suit — and lost, at the US Supreme Court, no less — when the space agency started collecting information for background checks. Now that those previous concerns have become reality, workers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab are calling for a congressional investigation into the matter, in addition to considering other options.
Privacy Concerns in 2007
Five years ago, a group of 28 scientists at NASA sued the agency, arguing that “the space agency’s background checks of employees of government contractors were unnecessarily invasive and violated their privacy rights” (nytimes.com). The information — which included names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, birthplace information, and other “details related to background checks into employees’ personal lives” — were apparently gathered for the Department of Homeland Security.
Background checks are already an established requirement for federal employees; however, the scientists were government contractors and, until they lost the case, it was debated whether they were subjected to the same prerequisites. The case reached the Supreme Court and the group of scientists lost.
The lawyers on the government’s side had argued that the Privacy Act protected the scientists’ information. Which is debatable. Because can the Privacy Act prevent idiocy as well?
Stolen Laptop: Not Authorized to be Taken from Facility
NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs “noted that the stolen laptop was not supposed to be taken from the JPL facilities. ‘That is one of the things we regret the most. That laptop was not supposed to leave the building,'” according to computerworld.co.nz.
It’s the oldest reason for ensuring that all laptops used at an organization are properly secured with encryption software. Even at organizations that hire rockets scientists and brain surgeons — in the literal sense — you always have that subset of people who won’t follow the rules or do not know how to. You also have the group that are willing and know how to follow the rules but don’t realize that they have personal sensitive data, and thus break the rules.
Related Articles and Sites: