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FDA reportedly spied on government scientists

The NYT has posted an article claliming the Federal Food and Drug Adminsitrtaion used high tech spyware to keep tabs on scientists’ comminuques with congress and other people while working at the agency:

The agency, using so-called spy software designed to help employers monitor workers, captured screen images from the government laptops of the five scientists as they were being used at work or at home. The software tracked their keystrokes, intercepted their personal e-mails, copied the documents on their personal thumb drives and even followed their messages line by line as they were being drafted, the documents show.

The extraordinary surveillance effort grew out of a bitter dispute lasting years between the scientists and their bosses at the F.D.A. over the scientists’ claims that faulty review procedures at the agency had led to the approval of medical imaging devices for mammograms and colonoscopies that exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation.

Comments

  1. RW Ahrens says

    I work at the FDA, and in the IT office as well.

    Yes, we have “spy” software. Some of it allows us to gather an unbelievable amount of data, including what software is installed, who logged on last, how long and what did you do? We can take screen shots with different software, and “spy” on what you are doing. (That software also allows us to look at and fix problems on your computer remotely, saving a personal trip to your office by a technician.)

    Why not? We have data gathered – by law – from all sorts of manufacturers that is literally worth trillions of dollars, and we are held liable – by that same law – to safeguard that data.

    Every FDA employee, when he/she logs in, is confronted with a statement to the affect that anything they do, all data stored on the network, computers connected to that network, and devices connected to those computers, is subject to surveillance, copying and transfer to other law enforcement agencies for lawful purposes. In other words, as long as you use OUR computers, you have no expectation of privacy. Period, end of story.

    So, there was no “spying”. It was all legitimate surveillance for the purpose of safeguarding data we are responsible for holding safe from exposure to the public.

    Now, that said,

    What the Agency does with that information (of employee activities, natch), once gathered, is another conversation. There are Federal laws regarding whistleblower protections, and I, as well as every other FDA employee, expects our employer to obey those laws, too.

    We are, after all, a Federal Law Enforcement Agency, so we should respect the law, shouldn’t we?

    And anyone who intends to blow the whistle on their employer when it is violating the law, should be smart enough to avoid using an employer-issued computer to do that deed. There are plenty of ways to communicate with others which does NOT include legal ways for your employer to see what you are doing.

  2. left0ver1under says

    RW Ahrens says:

    And anyone who intends to blow the whistle on their employer when it is violating the law, should be smart enough to avoid using an employer-issued computer to do that deed. There are plenty of ways to communicate with others which does NOT include legal ways for your employer to see what you are doing.

    Just because a government employee consents to having his work monitored doesn’t mean he consents to having his work used for political or corporate agendas, as was the case here. The FDA is supposed to be non-political for the benefit of all, and those in charge are working instead for kickbacks and jobs from corporations, and punishing those who threaten that.

    Recall the name Bunnatine Greenhouse, if you will, who was fired from her job in the US army for blocking “no bid” contracts and blocking KBR from attempts at fraud and waste. Her “superiors” benefitted from KBR’s “generosity” after the fact.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunny_Greenhouse

  3. RW Ahrens says

    Just because a government employee consents to having his work monitored doesn’t mean he consents to having his work used for political or corporate agendas, as was the case here.

    Didn’t say they/we do. As a matter of fact, we aren’t even asked to consent, beyond that little warning label. That isn’t a consent box, it is a warning, telling you what we will/are doing.

    I did say:

    We are, after all, a Federal Law Enforcement Agency, so we should respect the law, shouldn’t we?

    And my point still stands. If you are intending to blow the whistle on your employer, only a fool does so using the computer that employer gave you, thinking the employer has no way of keeping track of your activities, because, believe me, we do.

    There are plenty of other ways to contact people outside a government agency besides using your government computer.

    A potential whistleblower has essentially three choices:

    1. do nothing.
    2. Do nothing beyond working within the Agency to change things.
    3. Be a whistleblower.

    #1 assures that you can keep working, without the fear of disruption beyond the quirks of your own conscience.

    #’s 2 & 3 will assure some level of disruption, as you rock the boat of your superiors’ plans, so if you decide on routes 2 or 3, plan your activities accordingly.

    The US Government has a history of being decidedly UNfriendly to whistleblowers, and a vast majority of us know that. People who blow that whistle should take that into consideration.

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