NASA vs. Nelson Goes To Supreme Court

It just might be the largest case regarding background checks in recent memory. NASA vs. Nelson, which we discussed back in the spring, appeared to be on its way to the Supreme Court at the time and, in the present, is going to court next week. But unlike the many recent instances in which the use of credit checks in employment has been questioned, NASA vs. Nelson is focused more on how much a background check can investigate and why an extensive check is needed for unclassified research positions.

According to the article, the case is based on 28 plaintiffs from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who were hired to perform “low-risk and unclassified” research. In 2004, the article explains, they were told by NASA that they must consent to an extensive background check – family and friends may have been questioned, and medical and financial records also investigated – or they would lose their jobs. The employees claim that their rights under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments and the Federal Privacy Act are being violated.

NASA, on the other hand, claims that these background checks were required under a presidential order to tighten security after September 11, 2001.

Although credit is a significant issue regarding employment at the moment, these employee background checks at NASA may serve as an example of the amount of information an employer can request. In general, most background checks simply look at criminal and employment history, but others can look at more information. But at the same time, when does a background check go too far and pry too much into a person’s life, disrupt their relationships, and go after records which are confidential? While the outcome of this case may be geared specifically toward these scientists, it may be a ruling in regards to all background investigations in the future.