Saturday, February 10, 2007

Soon All Government Agencies Will Be Subdivisions of the Department of Homeland Security

Critics Question Education Department’s Screening

[NYT] As a condition of his work for the federal government, Andrew A. Zucker was willing to be fingerprinted and provide an employment history. But then he was asked to let federal investigators examine his financial and medical records, and interview his doctors.

Dr. Zucker was not tracking terrorists or even emptying the trash at the Pentagon. He was studying how to best teach science to middle school students. He was stunned at the breadth of the request for information.

“To me, personally, it’s shocking,” said Dr. Zucker, who worked for a contractor doing research for the Education Department. He withdrew from the job.

For about a year, contractors say, the department has been requiring employees of the thousands of contractors it hires — many of them academic researchers like Dr. Zucker — to go through a level of security screening usually reserved for those working with very sensitive information.

Katherine McLane, a department spokeswoman, said the scrutiny was warranted because her agency had access to databases with financial data and other information, including names and social security numbers of students or of applicants to colleges or other programs. “We want to make sure that the people who handle and have access to this information are responsible, reliable and trustworthy,” Ms. McLane said.

The policy is prompting critics to question when a prudent background investigation becomes an invasion of privacy. . . .

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