The personal e-mails of a group of scientists and doctors alerting Congress about possibly unsafe medical devices were monitored by the Food and Drug Administration. The monitoring occurred over a two-year period, according to documents filed in a lawsuit against the FDA, The Washington Post
The six scientists and doctors accessed their personal e-mail accounts from government computers. The suit charges that the six, who worked in an office responsible for reviewing devices for cancer screening among other things, were harassed or dismissed with the help of the information, the Post reported.
While FDA computers warn users each time they log on that they have no expectation of privacy, the suit charges that the government violated the constitutional privacy rights of the workers by viewing personal e-mail accounts involved in lawful activity, the Post reported.
“Who would have thought that they would have the nerve to be monitoring my communications to Congress?” plaintiff Robert Smith, a former radiology professor at Yale and Cornell universities who worked as a device reviewer at the FDA, told the Post. “How dare they?”
The Post reported that Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the “FDA has a huge responsibility to protect public health and safety. It’s hard to see how managers apparently thought it was a good use of time to shadow agency scientists and monitor their e-mail accounts for legally protected communications with Congress.”
The employees of the Office of Device Evaluation had initially complained internally about suspect devices in 2007 before bringing their concerns to Congress, the White House and the HHS inspector general, the Post reported.
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