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July 18, 2012

Grassley presses FDA on spying

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says he is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to fully account for surveillance of employee e-mail messages.

Grassley said internal documents show the agency spied on protected, personal e-mail messages of employees who raised concerns to Congress about the safety of certain drugs and devices approved by the FDA. Grassley said the whistle-blowers were subsequently fired or had their contract lapse.

Grassley said the documents, which refer to whistle-blowers as "collaborators" and congressional staff as "ancillary actors" make the agency "sound more like the East German Stasi than a consumer protection agency in a free country."

"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," Grassley said Tuesday in a statement.

Grassley, who said the surveillance was authorized in writing by the FDA counsel's office, began his investigation of the alleged surveillance effort in January but received no response until last Friday before The New York Times ran story about 80,000 pages of internal FDA documents posted on the Internet.

FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson said the agency is looking into the matter, The Washington Post reported. Jefferson said the surveillance was only done on government computers. "We did not impede or interfere with any employee communication to Congress, their staff, media or federal investigators," she was quoted as saying.

The Post reported in January on the FDA's targeting of employees' communications. The New York Times last weekend reported the scope of the surveillance was wider than first suspected.

The Post said FDA computers warn users they should have "no reasonable expectation of privacy" while using the computers.

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