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FDA email monitoring probe spurs inquiries into other agencies

Jul. 20, 2012 - 02:10PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
Sen. Charles Grassley, R- Iowa, has asked numerous agencies for details on their employee monitoring activities.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R- Iowa, has asked numerous agencies for details on their employee monitoring activities. (AFP / Getty Images)

Sen. Charles Grassley, R- Iowa, has asked numerous agencies for details on their employee monitoring activities.

The senator’s inquiries were sparked by revelations this week of a robust employee monitoring program at the Food and Drug Administration. The agency was using tools to record keystrokes and screen shots of FDA scientists who blew the whistle on what they claim was lax industry oversight by the agency.

Reports surfaced this week that an FDA contractor had posted online tens of thousands of internal FDA correspondence involving the whistle-blowers and other sensitive materials, including internal documents from other federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and Internal Revenue Service.

The contractor that posted the information is Maryland-based Quality Associates Inc., a data management company.

“Agencies should know when they are releasing internal documents to the public and should do so deliberately, with appropriate protections for truly private information,” said Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement. “It’s not clear from this incident whether the agencies were looking for any sensitive materials before shipping files over for archiving and possibly inadvertent public distribution.”

The revelations of broad surveillance at FDA follow a January lawsuit by six current and former FDA whistle-blowers claiming that top FDA managers monitored and seized emails from their personal email accounts after they expressed concerns to the incoming Obama administration that FDA had approved unsafe medical devices.

“This massive campaign of spying was not just an invasion of privacy; it was specifically designed to intercept communications that are protected by law,” Grassley said in a floor speech.

Grassley has asked FDA who specifically authorized the monitoring, as well as for an explanation of why congressional communication with the whistle-blowers appeared to have been the target of FDA’s surveillance.

Grassley also pressed leaders at DHS, IRS, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, Agriculture Department, Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health to detail their contracts with Quality Associates. He asked whether those agencies monitor employee accounts with software that captures screen shots and keystrokes.

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