I've known about this since Monday, but the only link I had was to the NYT (here). There's nothing I can point to that's wrong with the article- from what I've read it seems to be fairly straight news reporting. But it is a convoluted issue, and exactly "why" it was a big deal was hard to pin down. I knew in my gut that it was bad, but the reporting didn't make clear exactly why I was so irked, though irked I was.
Today, via the almighty Vic at the AoSHQ, I have this better link to a FoxNews article. It's a little easier to digest, and made it much easier to pin down why this is such a bad thing.
For those who don't know, the FDA has to approve everything from new prescription drugs, to generic formulations of drugs no longer protected, to new medical devices and changes to old medical devices. This process has been highly politicized for as long as I can remember, with the "Big Pharma" companies routinely getting drugs approved via a "fast track" process; drugs which would later either be recalled or have their approval modified. On the other side of things were the little pharmaceutical companies who would often have drugs languish in red-tape limbo for years, and Durable Medical Equipment designers.
At least six scientists working for the FDA decided there institutional, and probably legal, problems with this arrangement, and began working on getting it fixed. They communicated with congress and with personal attorneys, as (it seems, though I'm not clear on this) with each other.
The FDA retaliated by installing monitoring software on their work laptops- software which captured confidential communications with members of Congress as well as with their attorneys.
Now, the criminal issue here is big, but the implications are actually wider than that. Hit the NYT and FoxNews for the criminal angle.
The major problem with this is the brazen, even cavalier manner in which the FDA acted. Their actions speak of a culture that brooks no dissent- which should be antithetical to science generally, and especially to medical science. Spying on employees who disagree with you is bad enough, but to then base retaliation (which is illegal anyway) on the confidential communications thereby attained is even worse. It cannot have anything but a chilling affect on dissent, and dissent is necessary for science to work properly. Contrary to Al Gore's beliefs, science is not now, and has never been, about about "consensus."
To so oppose dissent, even if it dissent about policy, means the FDA is putting politics above safety and people's health. If policy is wrong about something- and sometimes even decently crafted and well meaning policies get something wrong- then it needs to be challenged and changed. To oppose such means the FDA is more concerned with the status quotient than they are with doing what they are mandated to do: make sure drugs and medical equipment are safe for your use.