FDA Spying On Its Own Scientists
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted a surveillance operation against a group of its own scientists who they categorized as 'enemy list'.
This operation began as an investigation into the possibility of leaked confidential emails but later grew into a surveillance program into critics of the FDA. The agency used software to monitor the scientists, to capture screen images, keystrokes, emails and documents on the scientist's government laptops. The officials admitted to monitoring five scientists, but said it was only to ensure that no information was improperly used.
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According to the New York Times, the documents suggest that the FDA kept a list of targets that included members of Congress, aides and others. They collected more than 80,000 pages of documents of communication between five scientists and journalists members of Congress, lawyers and President Obama.
This surveillance was defended by the FDA officials claiming that computer monitoring was limited to five scientists suspected of leaking confidential information about the safety and design of medical devices.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said that "the F.D.A. is discouraging whistle-blowers. Emails of former staff members of the Republican senator were cataloged in the database. Grassley told the Times that agency officials "have absolutely no business reading the private e-mails of their employees. They think they can be the Gestapo and do anything they want. FDA has a lot of explaining to do in the weeks ahead."
This program of the FDA came to light when a private document handling contactor for the FDA inadvertently posted on the internet 80,000 pages of computer documents related to investigation.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," the researcher, who did not want to be named, told the New York Times. "I thought: 'Oh my God, everything is out there. It's all about us.' It was just outrageous."
"It is absolutely unacceptable for the FDA to be spying on employees who reach out to members of Congress to expose abuses or wrongdoing in government agencies," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, (D-Md), who has examined the agency's medical review procedures.
It is reported that the FDA officials initially asked the Health and human Services Inspector general to undertake a criminal investigation into possible leaks from the scientists. But they never found any evidence of crime.