Expose FDA's Illegal Surveillance of Employees
Spy Program Documents Linked Here
As reported in today's Washington
Post, six current and former employees of the Food and Drug Administration
filed a complaint against the FDA in U.S. District Court. The employees
are seeking an injunction to stop the agency from illegally spying on
employees' private communications to Congress and other oversight
Linked here are key documents related to this lawsuit and the FDA's
The complaint details how the FDA targeted its employees with a covert
spying campaign that lasted for two years. The FDA began the program
after learning that the employees wrote a letter to President-Elect Obama and his transition team
in early 2009 detailing government misconduct in approving unsafe
medical devices. The Agency installed (or activated) spyware on their
workplace computers and used other technology that to monitor their
password-protected Gmail-to-Gmail communications.
In addition to reading the whistleblowers' emails, the FDA took contemporaneous screen shots
of the employees’ computer screens. Managers used the collected
information to learn the identities of confidential whistleblowers and
to obtain the details of the public health and safety concerns the
whistleblowers intended to disclose to the Office of Special Counsel, Congress and the Agency's own Inspector General.
The FDA also intercepted email
communications to and from staff members of the House Committee on
Energy and Commerce and the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance
Committee. These Congressional intercepts are linked here.
The FDA’s prolonged covert monitoring of
the whistleblowers continued even after the HHS Office of Inspector
General denied the FDA’s request to take any criminal and/or
administrative action against the whistleblowers. In their letter of refusal, the OIG explicitly informed the FDA that the whistleblowers' communications to Congress were protected under law.
The managers who spearheaded the
surveillance efforts were the same managers involved with the wrongdoing
and corruption that the whistleblowers were seeking to report. Lawyers
at the FDA and HHS Offices of General Counsel, who should have
understood that the program breached the employees’ confidentiality,
helped FDA managers with their obstruction and retaliation.
In their lawsuit, six FDA whistleblowers
who were fired by the agency (including two highly respected medical
doctors, a Branch Chief, a former Health and Safety Officer employed by
the Public Health Service and a 23-year FDA career M.D./Ph.D Scientist)
are requesting a nationwide injunction prohibiting the federal
government from targeting whistleblowers with selected surveillance and
The lawsuit alleges that such targeted
monitoring of whistleblowers violates their First Amendment rights of
freedom of speech and association.
Stephen M. Kohn, NWC Executive Director and attorney for six FDA whistleblowers, issued the following statement:
The FDA declared war on employees who were trying to warn Americans about threats to public health and safety.
The federal government cannot---and
should not---spy on whistleblowers. The First Amendment prohibits
targeting whistleblowers and selectively monitoring them using highly
intrusive electronic surveillance without a warrant.
Targeting the employees who raise health
and safety concerns---or who try to report waste, fraud and abuse to the
proper authorities---will have a massive chilling effect on employees.
The FDA's illegal spying program is not
just a problem for the six victims in this case. The day we allow the
government to spy on employees based on their lawful whistleblower
activities is the day we give up privacy for every honest public servant
If permitted to stand, the FDA's
whistleblower surveillance program will be used by government agencies
throughout the United States to silence employees who want to report
misconduct. Those who are not silenced will be subjected to years of
intrusive covert spying designed to dredge up embarrassing information
that the agencies can use to destroy the whistleblowers' reputations and
Today, the NWC issued an Action Alert
seeking public support for the FDA whistleblowers and demanding an end
to the federal government's targeted and selective surveillance of
The NWC obtained the intercepted emails
as a result of a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act and
from documents produced by the FDA as a result of administrative actions
taken against three of the whistleblowers.
FDA Whistleblower Complaint