Press Release

Press Conference on NASA Data Breach JPL Employees Call for Congressional Investigation into NASA Privacy Breech

By SpaceRef Editor
November 28, 2012
Filed under ,
Press Conference on NASA Data Breach JPL Employees Call for Congressional Investigation into NASA Privacy Breech

November 28, 2012

Press Conference: Wednesday Nov 28 10 AM PST
At the offices of Hadsell, Stormer, Richardson & Renick, LLP
128 Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena CA 91103

Click here to download the press release (available 10am PST, Nov 28, 2012)

Statement from Robert M. Nelson

My name is Robert M. Nelson. For the last 34 years I have worked as astronomer doing research at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in support of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Program. I was a co-investigator on NASA’s Voyager Grand Tour of the Solar System and I was the Project Scientist for NASA’s Deep Space 1 mission, NASA’s first mission to flyby and image a comet. I am currently a member of the Cassini Saturn Orbiter mission.

Six years ago I and my colleagues at JPL were ordered by NASA to submit to background investigations of unlimited scope into the most intimate details of our private lives. We were asked to ‘voluntarily’ agree to allow “…any investigator, special agent, or other duly accredited representative of the authorized Federal agency conducting my background investigation, to obtain any information relating to my activities from schools, residential management agents, employers, criminal justice agencies, retail business establishments, or other sources of information. This information may include, but is not limited to, my academic, residential, achievement, performance, attendance, disciplinary, employment history, and criminal history record information.” Our employer, Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA, assured us that if we did not ‘voluntarily’ agree to this investigation we would be fired.

In the Fall of 2007 I and 27 JPL colleagues filed lawsuit in federal district court to stop or limit the scope of these investigations. After our suit was dismissed in District Court the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found merit in our case and issued an injunction that blocked these open ended probes. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the investigations had to be narrowly tailored to meet the Government’s specific needs. Open ended fishing expeditions were ruled out. One of our principal concerns was that such intimate personal information could not be kept sufficiently secure in the hands of the sprawling government bureaucracy. Unfortunately, on appeal, the United States Supreme Court lifted the injunction in 2011. The Supreme Court held that our personal information was amply protected under the provisions of the Privacy Act. By June 1 of this year, the background investigations of my JPL colleagues were completed or fully underway. I left JPL on April 28.

Recently, tens of thousands of NASA present and former employees and contractors received a communication from NASA informing us that a laptop computer issued to a NASA employee in Washington had been stolen last Oct 31 after being left in a parked car. The highly personal and sensitive information on the NASA computer was NOT encrypted. Some of this information includes material gathered by the open ended and unconstrained background investigators of the type described above.
We warned of this possibility five years ago when we filed our lawsuit. We were ignored by the courts. Now, unfortunately, by virtue of the cavalier behavior of a NASA bureaucrat our argument has been proven. Our nightmare of five years ago has become a reality. We therefore are asking Congress to conduct an investigation into NASA’s behavior in this unsavory affair and to develop new standards which protect the privacy of federal employees.

Robert Nelson Letter to Congressional Representatives

Statement from Dennis Byrnes

I am Dennis Byrnes, Chief Engineer for Flight Dynamics at JPL until my retirement April 1, 2012. As a plaintiff in the HSPD12 Nelson v. NASA case, I was very concerned when I received the letter from Mr. Keegan of NASA regarding the stolen computer which contained personally identifiable information for over 10,000 NASA employee and contractor personnel including myself. I am further concerned over the company with which NASA has contracted to provide identity theft services for us. No information on the company was provided nor on the process for choosing them. I have expressed my concerns and requested information from NASA in an as yet unanswered email sent on Tuesday, November 20, 2012. It follows:

From: Dennis Byrnes
Date: November 20, 2012 2:03:03 PM PST
Subject: Stolen Laptop – compromised PII incident


I have received the letter from Mr. Keegan indicating that my PII was included on the stolen laptop. I retired from JPL on April 1, 2012.

I require that you tell me precisely what information relating to me was stolen.

I wish to know more about ID Experts than is available on the web. How were they chosen, was it a competitive bid or do they have some inside advantage at HQ? What were the requirements in issuing the contract to them? What is the cost of the contract?

There is no apparent rating or reviews of ID Experts available, how do I know that they are trustworthy or will they be releasing any information that I give them to their affiliates and unknown related companies?

In your letter you list a number of recommended steps, some of which could be costly both monetarily as well as in inconvenience. Will NASA also be reimbursing me for these steps?

This situation is precisely what we warned you of in our suit against you (Nelson v. NASA) regarding the implementation of HSPD12 which went to the US Supreme Court.

I look forward to a timely reply. Thank you,

Dennis V. Byrnes
Chief Engineer for Flight Dynamics , JPL (retired)

Statement from Jim Kulleck

In the past, handling classified material was considered to be a justified reason for demanding that federal employees be subject to extended background investigation. Due to the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, anyone who now works at JPL has been compelled by NASA to relinquish their right to privacy as a condition of employment. It appears that there are no longer any objective criteria for these types of investigations. Those who cut the grass and wash the dishes and the other 98% of the employees at JPL who do no classified work have had themselves and their families exposed to the potential of identity theft as a result of the cavalier handling of personal data by NASA and the subsequent theft of that data. During the judicial actions in this case, the plaintiff employees were not provided the opportunity for discovery, complained of the potential for data mishandling and endured false statements which were presented to the Supreme Court by the government. The Supreme Court summarily ruled in NASA’s favor.

Unless there is clear evidence of illegal activity, neither the government nor businesses should be collecting information about individuals that extends beyond a person’s duties as an employee. To allow various types of personal and consumer information to be accumulated enables an employer to discriminate against a potential employee without their knowledge. This, in and of itself, is inconsistent with existing employment law. Legislation needs to be implemented to correct these problems and protect individual privacy.

SpaceRef staff editor.