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After NASA put into practice the 2004 Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12, known as HSPD-12, Dennis Byrnes talked to then—NASA administrator Michael Griffin. Byrnes recalls that Griffin told him in 2007 that if he didn't like the agency's implementation of HSPD-12, he should go to court. That's exactly what Byrnes, an employee of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) working as a senior engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., did.

Concerned about prying and open-ended background investigations of federal contractors through NASA's implementation of HSPD-12, he, along with lead plaintiff Robert Nelson and 26 other Caltech employees working at JPL, sued NASA. Following several lower court decisions, including an injunction issued by a U.S. federal appeals court in response to a plaintiff motion, the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on 5 October.