NASA Scientists Discuss Upcoming Supreme Court Privacy Case

Bob Nelson of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is hosting a telephone press briefing this Thursday to preview a Supreme Court case that will be argued next week. The case revolves around the following question: Should scientists working as government contractors be forced to submit to unrestricted and intrusive background checks, even when their work is low risk, unclassified, and doesn’t require security clearance? For more than two dozen scientists and engineers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, the answer is no.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center. The lab is headquartered in the city of Pasadena on the border of La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory​’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

In 2007, those JPL scientists and engineers sued NASA to challenge such background checks as illegal and unjustified violations of their privacy. In October 2007, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled in favor of the JPL scientists and engineers, but in November 2009, the federal government appealed, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. On October 5, the JPL scientists and NASA will present their opposing arguments.

The telephone press briefing will feature JPL scientists, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, and representatives from UCS, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs.


  • Robert Nelson, a senior JPL scientist and the lead plaintiff in the case
  • Kurt Gottfried, a UCS co-founder and board member, and an emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University
  • Virginia Keeny, attorney for the JPL scientists
  • Dennis Byrnes, a senior JPL engineer and a plaintiff in the case
  • Kathy Rest, UCS’s executive director

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:00 p.m. EDT

The comfort of your own office. Dial: (866) 961-5938

Jet Propulsion Lab Teleconference

For contact with JPL employees 818-635-5536,

For contact with attorneys 626-585-9600


  1. says

    Sorry I missed this. As a former JPL employee (just retired from Caltech this week), and old friend of Susan Foster, I cheer and salute you all.

    I can only hope this is one of those myriad matters in the huge federal behemoth that has not yet tricked up into Obama’s consciousness. (He does have other things on his mind, I think. Speaking of which, let’s hope we get a better Supreme Court before too long. It took a while for FDR, remember.)

    Meanwhile, keep up the Good Fight, for us all.

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