Federal ID Plan Threatens Privacy, Say JPL Scientists

05.03.07 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A Bush Administration plan to require a standardized identification system for federal employees poses “severe threats to the privacy rights of scientists and others,” employees at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) wrote to Congress last week (pdf).

In August 2004, President Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 12, “Policy for a Common Identification Standard for Federal Employees and Contractors,” which was intended to enhance security by establishing a mandatory, verifiable, and standardized identification system for government personnel.

But the implementation of the Directive is doing more than that, the JPL scientists told Congress.

“We and our colleagues have found that this order, which is merely intended to establish a common standard of identification for access to federal facilities, is being used to gather extensive personal information about employees, including fingerprints, racial, ethnic, financial and medical information.”

“Rigorous proof [of identification] does not require intrusion into the personal lives of federal employees,” they wrote on April 26.

Aside from civil liberties concerns, they added, the collection of personal data under HSPD-12 has “a very negative impact on our ability to recruit the very best scientific and engineering talent to address our nation’s complex technical needs.”

“In the face of such intrusions talented researchers are inclined to take positions elsewhere, where the employers have a modicum of respect for the Constitution.”

The four JPL scientists addressed their request for relief to Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.) since “the four of us, like the two of you, hold doctorates in the physical sciences.”