FDA Spied On Scientist Emails

By Amir Khan on July 15, 2012 9:58 PM EDT

FDA
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration operated a so-called "enemy list" of disgruntled scientists and spied of their emails using keylogging software, according to a report by the New York Times (Photo: Creative Commons)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration operated a so-called "enemy list" of disgruntled scientists and spied of their emails using keylogging software, according to a report by the New York Times.  The operation began as an investigation into the possibility of leaked confidential emails, but grew into a surveillance program into critics of the FDA.

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The agency used software intended employers to monitor workers to capture screen images, keystrokes, emails and documents line by line on the scientist's government laptops. The FDA admitted to the New York Times to monitoring five scientists, but said it was only to ensure that no information was improperly used.

The FDA did not immediately return a request for comment.

The product used, sold by the company SpectorSoft, cost as little as $99.95 for individual use, according to the Times. On the website, the company advertises that employers can follow all of their employee's moves online.

"Monitor everything they do," the website says. "Catch them red-handed by receiving instant alerts when keywords or phrases are typed or are contained in an e-mail, chat, instant message or Web site."

The monitoring was inadvertently discovered by one of the scientists after Googling himself. Within a few minutes of searching, the unnamed scientists discovered a database with a plethora of emails that he and others had sent.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," the researcher, who did not want to be named, told the New York Times. "I thought: 'Oh my God, everything is out there. It's all about us.' It was just outrageous."

Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, condemned the actions of the FDA.

"The extent to which the FDA spied on employees' personal email is shocking. The more we learn, the more disturbing it is," he told CBS News "The FDA's actions raise serious implications for the right of any agency employee to make protected disclosures about waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, or public safety to Congress or anyone else."

After the surveillance began, four of the five scientists lost their jobs, the Times reported. The unnamed scientists are suing the FDA, and say their treatment was in response to their claims of safety abuse within the FDA.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. called the monitoring "unacceptable."

"The agency's effort appears to have been extensive and targeted to intercept confidential communications," he said, according to CBS News. "Retaliation appears to have been swift."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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