The FDA began using surveillance software in 2010 to monitor the computer activities of five of its scientists that it suspected of leaking damaging confidential information. The software captured screen images, intercepted personal emails, copied documents and even tracked their keystrokes.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that the agency gathered 80,000 pages of documents as part of the program and created a list of 21 employees, congressional officials, academics and journalists it suspected of putting out negative information about the FDA. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who has examined the agency's procedures for reviewing medical devices, was listed as No. 14 on the list.
“What the FDA has done has serious implications for the right of federal employees to make valuable protected disclosures about waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, or public safety to Congress or anyone else. This kind of communication is protected for good reason,” Grassley said in a statement. “The FDA’s crusade contradicts the pledge the current commissioner made to create a culture that values whistleblowers, and the scope and tone of the surveillance effort reveals an agency more concerned about protecting itself than protecting the public, which ironically is the agency’s mission.”
Grassley sent a letter demanding more answers from the FDA on Monday. In the letter, he said he obtained information showing that the FDA's general counsel's office explicitly approved the computer spying program.