Employees sue FDA over privacy violations

A group of Food and Drug Administration scientists and doctors filed suit against the agency for watching their personal email as they drafted whistleblower documents, reports the Washington Post.

The six employees accessed personal Gmail accounts from agency computers to share their concerns with congressional staffers about medical devices the agency was going to approve. The agency collected snapshots of the employees' computer desktops, intercepted emails with congressional staffers, and reviewed documents saved on agency hard drives, the article states. The suit alleges the agency violated the employees' privacy rights and the monitoring led to harassment. According to the suit, two employees were passed over for promotions and one was fired. FDA computers, however, warn users that they should have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” when they log on.

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Reader comments

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 dp dc

Let's see, they were using personal email on government computers, FDA has a formal policy about access to their own systems, that policy is prominently displayed, and these people ignored it all. Sounds a bit like the OWS-DC person quoted as saying "our constitutionally guaranteed right to civil disobedience". I am with FDA on this one, except to the extent they may have violated whistleblower laws about retaliation.

Tue, Jan 31, 2012 Paul

There may not be an expectation of privacy but that doesn't mean your agency can look at your emails or documents. As someone working in a sensitive position for DoD, I'm well aware of the regulations and know that files can only be accessed under certain strict conditions. The main ones being when something is suspected of impacting/violating IT rules (massive files, P2P clients, etc.) or in support of a law enforcement investigation. Your agency CANNOT access your system just because they want to know what you are doing. This violation is even more egregious as it was personal email and not official email. I'm just glad some folks at FDA were willing to speak out.

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