NASA scientists had challenged background checks that included questions about past drug use. The Supreme Court ruling sidesteps the issue of whether there is a right to informational privacy.
Contract workers for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have lost their challenge to have intrusive government background investigations struck down as a violation of their right to privacy.
In an 8-to-0 decision announced on Wednesday, the US Supreme Court said the government has the power to insist that federal contract employees candidly answer certain personal questions – including whether they had received treatment or counseling for illegal drug use.
The ruling is a defeat for a group of 28 research scientists, engineers, and administrators at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. The group filed a lawsuit challenging what they saw as overly intrusive background investigations that required that they answer personal questions or lose their jobs.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said the challenged background checks – including open-ended questions to neighbors and others about a worker’s honesty – were “reasonable, employment-related inquiries that further the government’s interests in managing its internal operations.”
At the center of the case was an allegation that intrusive background investigations violate a constitutional right to informational privacy.