According to a New York Times report, the Food and Drug Administration conducted a massive e-mail surveillance mission against its own scientists. You may recall that President Nixon had an "enemies list." So, apparently, does the FDA.
While the initial surveillance was narrow and involved five scientists believed to be leaking confidential information, 80,000 pages of computer documents show that by 2010 it had evolved into a broad campaign to counter outside critics of the agency's medical review process. The "enemies list" grew to encompass 21 FDA employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists the FDA believed were working together to put out negative and "defamatory" information.
Using spyware, the FDA tracked via keystroke logging everything the five original scientists did on their government laptops whether at home or at work, whether the communications were personal or business.
Aghast as I was by the rampant surveillance, there was a bit of a giggle in all this. The FDA was undone by one of its own document handling contractors who inadvertently posted the documents collected in this effort on a public website.
While monitoring employees is ok under many circumstances, it looks like the FDA may have "crossed the line" by intercepting communications specifically protected by law, including attorney-client communications, whistle-blower complaints to Congress and workplace grievances.
The White House Office of Management and Budget took the unusual step of issuing a government-wide memo last month emphasizing that employee monitoring could not be used to intimidate whistle-blowers using appropriate channels to disclose wrongdoing. A trip to the White House wood shed may be forthcoming - lawsuits on behalf of the scientists are already in court.
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