A group of scientists and doctors who were employed by the Food and Drug Administration are suing the agency after it monitored their personal email.
According to The Washington Post, the FDA began monitoring the staffers when they warned Congress that the agency was approving medical devices that they said posed unacceptable risks to patients.
The lawsuit alleges that the information collected from the employee’s personal email beginning in January 2009 contributed to the harassment and firing of six FDA employees. The agency also scoured the employees’ computers for documents related to the communications with Congress.
Though FDA computers display a message stating that employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy when using the machines, the employees say that accessing their personal emails was a violation of Constitutional rights.
“Who would have thought that they would have the nerve to be monitoring my communications to Congress?” Robert C. Smith, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, a former radiology professor at Yale and Cornell universities and former FDA device reviewer, told the newspaper. “How dare they?”
The FDA Office of Device Evaluation said they first made internal complaints beginning in 2007 that the agency had approved or was near approving at least a dozen radiological devices, the effectiveness of which not proven, posing risks to millions of patients.
According to experts, the biggest legal issues in the case are whether the monitoring was legal and what level of monitoring on government computers is reasonable as technology increasingly blurs the lines between work and private life.