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Public Statements

Letter To Attorney General Holder

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Late yesterday, Rep. Adam Schiff wrote a letter to United States Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that he decline the opportunity to appeal a June 4, 2009 decision by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). In 2007, employees working at JPL sued NASA over background checks ordered pursuant to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12), which required these employees to provided unnecessary personal information regarding workers health records, mental state, and sexual histories. In the letter, Rep. Schiff requested that the Attorney General develop new national security standards that protect our national security without trampling on the privacy of scientists and engineers.

"I fully understand the importance of the cutting edge research that is done by NASA, and the need to safeguard information vital to our national security," Rep. Schiff wrote in the letter. "We need to ensure the safety of our staff and information, and I am fully committed to that goal. At the same time, we must ensure that we are not gathering personal information unrelated to security concerns, and that personal information is not improperly disseminated."

Below is the full text of the letter sent to Attorney General Holder.

June 16, 2009

The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General of the United States
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

On June 4, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of plaintiff employees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Nelson et al. vs NASA. These employees, many of them my constituents, had sued NASA over a 2004 requirement that JPL employees be subjected to additional invasive background investigations. The Court denied a request for rehearing the appeal en banc, stating that "although the government asserted several legitimate interests in investigating its contract employees, it had failed to demonstrate that its inquiry was narrowly tailored to meet those interests."

I fully understand the importance of the cutting edge research that is done by NASA, and the need to safeguard information vital to our national security. We need to ensure the safety of our staff and information, and I am fully committed to that goal. At the same time, we must ensure that we are not gathering personal information unrelated to security concerns, and that personal information is not improperly disseminated. In the instant case, the plaintiffs, along with 97% of their colleagues, are considered to be "low risk" and the extensive background investigations required under the terms of the 2004 executive order (HSPD-12), are clearly unnecessary and violative of the plaintiffs' privacy without any corresponding gain to the nation's security.

As the Ninth Circuit noted, "class members, many of whom have worked at JPL and Caltech for twenty to thirty years, have undergone serious security checks" and that the "record shows the very real potential for intrusions into undisclosed private sexual, financial, and health matters and the use of those private matters to determine job suitability."

I ask you to decline to appeal this decision and call on NASA to develop a security standard that will protect our national security without trampling on the privacy of our best scientists and engineers.

Sincerely,

Adam B. Schiff


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