Wednesday, October 12, 2005


I learned the other day about the new requirements for gov't employee background and identification (Personal Identity Verification) prompted by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (I love the folksy script used for "White House", by the way).

Among other things, new (and eventually all) lab employees will have to submit to background checks, submit their fingerprints (until the lab obtains the necessary equipment one has to go to the police station to do this) and will eventually be issued biometric ID cards (pending the results of the background check of course). I won't even get into the proposals floated around by the OPM regarding resource security e.g. computers.

I don't mean to don my tin foil hat, but the privacy, security, and scientific implications of this raise many questions: Who has access to my information and for how long? What about the dubious worth of fingerprints? Isn't a card that allows access to multiple gov't buildings itself a security threat? What affect will all this have on scientific collaboration?

The answer to question 1 on the Background check Q&A doesn't really inspire confidence:

Q. Why are you going to investigate me? I'm only applying for an entry level job and I don't need a security clearance.

A. The interests of the national security require that all persons privileged to be employed in the departments and agencies of the government shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States. This means that the appointment of each civilian employee in any department or agency of the government is subject to investigation. The scope of the investigation will vary, depending on the nature of the position and the degree of harm that an individual in that position could cause.

I understand the need for security (and may even consider myself a bit patriotic), but "complete and unswerving loyalty"? Isn't that quite a high and unreasonable standard? How does one test for that?

Anyway, the good thing is that many people more involved with this realize the negative implications and will likely do what they can to minimize them.


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