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House Oversight Committee to probe FDA email surveillance

Feb. 10, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., shown at left, is the latest member of Congress to call for a review of claims that the Food and Drug Administration improperly monitored emails of whistle-blower employees, joining Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, on right.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., shown at left, is the latest member of Congress to call for a review of claims that the Food and Drug Administration improperly monitored emails of whistle-blower employees, joining Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, on right. (File photos / Agence France-Presse)

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The House oversight committee is investigating allegations that the Food and Drug Administration improperly monitored the emails of whistle-blower employees.

"The act of monitoring an employee's personal email account is a violation of privacy and can only be justified in cases where the employee is reasonably suspected of serious wrongdoing," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a Thursday letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

Issa joins http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20120205/IT03/202050303/1036">Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in investigating FDA's treatment of six former and current employees who had informed the incoming Obama administration and Congress that FDA had approved unsafe medical devices.

FDA monitored employees who "had done nothing wrong," and the agency apparently targeted the employees because they talked to Congress, Issa said in his letter to Hamburg.

Issa asked FDA by Feb. 21 to:

Identify individuals who decided to monitor the employees' email.

Explain why it fired some of the whistle-blowers. FDA fired two employees and did not renew contracts for two others. Two other employees still work at FDA.

Provide documents that were created or obtained as a result of the email monitoring.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 25 in U.S. District Court of Washington, the six FDA employees claimed that top FDA managers monitored and seized emails from their personal Gmail and Yahoo accounts for at least two years. Documents they obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and other means show that FDA began monitoring electronic conversations in 2009, which they say was triggered by their correspondence with incoming administration officials, according to the lawsuit.

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