NASA plaintiffs win one round against HSPD-12

The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled in favor of NASA contractors who are suing the government over background checks required for Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 identification cards.

The court granted the employees of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory an injunction that protects them from releasing any personal information to their employers or signing an authorization form acquiescing to the checks.

The JPL employees were happy about the decision. “This is a victory for all NASA employees,” said Robert Nelson, a senior scientist at JPL and lead plaintiff in the case.

It had not looked as rosy for the JPL plaintiffs a few months ago. The 27 contractors who work at the lab, part of the California Institute of Technology, had hoped to get an injunction from the district court early last October. But the judge rejected it, saying that signing an authorization form would not cause the plaintiffs irreparable harm.

The plaintiffs appealed, and were granted a temporary injunction by the appeals court. Today’s decision cements that injunction for the duration of the lawsuit.

“The appellants have demonstrated serious questions as to certain of their claims on which they are likely to succeed on the merits, and the balance of hardships tips sharply in their favor,” the court said in its decision.

HSPD-12 requires all government employees and contractors to carry a standardized identification card. To get the card, workers must undergo background checks, which the JPL plaintiffs say violate their privacy rights.

The decision came the same day the district court heard arguments from the Justice Department to throw out the original case. The status of that hearing was unknown at the time of publishing.

Caltech also filed to excuse itself from the lawsuit, arguing that it was not responsible for the HSPD-12 card policy. The district court agreed with Caltech and dismissed the university from the case Jan. 10.

However, the higher court overruled that decision, saying that the university established a policy that JPL employees who did not obtain the badges would not only be shut out of the labs but fired.

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