WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the personal background checks now required for scientists and thousands of others who work under government contracts, ruling that questions about drug use and other personal matters do not violate their privacy rights under the Constitution.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration extended the use of background checks to those in companies and universities who work on government-funded projects.
A group of 28 veteran scientists and researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California sued, contending the prying questions violate their privacy rights, and they won before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the high court unanimously reversed that decision Wednesday and said backgrounds checks, long standard for federal civilian employees, are reasonable for government contract workers as well.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito agreed it would raise true privacy concerns if the government were to pry into the private lives of ordinary citizens. But the government has "wide latitude," he said, "in its dealings with employees."