FDA's Vast Email Spying Targeted 'Enemies List'

Agency looked at confidential information, made 'enemies list'
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 15, 2012 8:49 AM CDT
FDA's Vast Email Spying Targeted 'Enemies List'
The FDA's investigation into leaks grew into huge data-gathering campaign that may have violated laws protecting confidential information.   (Shutterstock)

The email monitoring by the Food and Drug Administration started out as an investigation of five scientists suspected of leaking confidential documents to Congress and the press. But it soon grew into a wide-ranging "enemies list" against those pushing negative information about the FDA, peeking at thousands of emails sent by FDA employees to congressional officials, outside scientists, the White House, and more, reports the New York Times. Information discovered in the email monitoring was used to label members of Congress as targets and "ancillary actors" in opposing the FDA. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who investigated the FDA's medical review procedures, was No. 14; an aide was No. 13.

Although the FDA has the authority to monitor employee computer use, officials may have broken the law by gathering and looking at confidential messages, such as correspondence with lawyers, legal whistleblowing complaints to Congress, and workplace grievances. The 80,000 pages of emails gathered by the FDA's spy software were apparently posted by accident on a public website, where they were found by one of the five original scientists under investigation when he did a Google search for himself and the other whistleblowers. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said the researcher. "I thought: 'Oh my God, everything is out there. It’s all about us.' It was just outrageous." (More Food and Drug Administration stories.)

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