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FDA’s Vast Surveillance of Scientist Whistleblower and Lawmakers

July 15, 2012

FDA’s Vast Surveillance of Scientist Whistleblower and Lawmakers

“Vast F.D.A. Effort Tracked E-mails Of Its Scientists: Cache of 80,000 Pages – Surveillance Campaign Far Broader Than Critics Knew,” by Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane: “A wide-ranging surveillance operation by the Food and Drug Administration against a group of its own scientists used an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails that the disgruntled scientists sent privately to members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists … What began as a narrow investigation into … possible leaking … by five scientists quickly grew in mid-2010 into a much broader campaign to counter outside critics … [T]he surveillance operation identified 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative … information about the agency. “F.D.A. officials defended the surveillance operation , saying that the computer monitoring was limited to the five scientists suspected of leaking [trade secrets] about the safety and design of medical devices. … The agency, using so-called spy software designed to help employers monitor workers, captured screen images from the government laptops of the five scientists as they were being used at work or at home. The software tracked their keystrokes, intercepted their personal e-mails, … and even followed their messages line by line as they were being drafted … The documents captured in the surveillance effort – including confidential letters to at least a half-dozen Congressional offices and oversight committees, drafts of legal filings and grievances, and personal e-mails – were posted on a public Web site , apparently by mistake , by a private document-handling contractor that works for the F.D.A. … “[T]he F.D.A. program may have crossed legal lines by grabbing and analyzing confidential information that is specifically protected under the law, including attorney-client communications, whistle-blower complaints to Congress and workplace grievances filed with the government. Other administration officials were so concerned to learn of the F.D.A. operation that the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a government-wide memo last month emphasizing that while the internal monitoring of employee communications was allowed, it could not be used under the law to intimidate whistle-blowers. … “Members of Congress from both parties were irate to learn that correspondence between the scientists and their own staff had been gathered and analyzed. Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who has examined the agency’s medical review procedures, was listed as No. 14 on the surveillance operation’s list of targets … Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican whose former staff member’s e-mails were cataloged in the surveillance database, said that … F.D.A. … officials … ‘think they can be the Gestapo and do anything they want.’ … The posting of the documents was discovered inadvertently by one of the researchers whose e-mails were monitored. The researcher did Google searches for scientists … to check for negative publicity that might hinder chances of finding work. Within a few minutes, the researcher stumbled upon the database.”


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