Not only is the FDA under scrutiny for possibly approving risky medical devices, but it now seems that instead of investigating how these machines were allowed to hit the market, the agency decided to find the whistleblowers by monitoring FDA staffers’ computers, reports Ellen Nakashima and Lisa Rein of The Washington Post.
Now six FDA scientists and doctors, who worked for the agency’s Office of Device Evaluation, are suing the FDA for peering into their personal Gmail accounts for at least two years.
While the FDA is not commenting on this story, the scientists were able to obtain FDA internal documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents requested that the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general investigate the staffs’ improper sharing of confidential information about the medical devices.
Copies of emails made available on The Washington Post website show that even before the request for investigation was submitted in May 2010, the FDA had been monitoring agency employees’ communications with congressional staffers as early as January 2009.
However, because FDA computers post a warning to all users when logging in that they should “have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transiting or stored on this information system,” the agency argues that it was within its legal limit to “conduct extensive monitoring.”
According to The Washington Post:
Michael Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, said the FDA’s warning on its computers gave the agency latitude to conduct extensive monitoring. “Anything on this agency’s network is fair game by use of this banner, as long as they’re lawfully targeting their employee.”
Yet the case sheds light on the lengths to which a federal agency will go to monitor employees. At issue, experts say, is whether the purpose of the monitoring was legal and what level of monitoring on government computers is reasonable at a time when technology increasingly blurs the lines between work and home.