The Washington Post reports on a lawsuit by employees at the Food and Drug Administration over the privacy of their personal e-mail. The story is a good reminder that technology can allow employers to see and record whatever you do on a work computer. There can be questions as to the legality of employers doing so in various cases, such as this one:
The Food and Drug Administration secretly monitored the personal e-mail of a group of its own scientists and doctors after they warned Congress that the agency was approving medical devices that they believed posed unacceptable risks to patients, government documents show.
The surveillance — detailed in e-mails and memos unearthed by six of the scientists and doctors, who filed a lawsuit against the FDA in U.S. District Court in Washington last week — took place over two years as the plaintiffs accessed their personal Gmail accounts from government computers.
Information garnered this way eventually contributed to the harassment or dismissal of all six of the FDA employees, the suit alleges. All had worked in an office responsible for reviewing devices for cancer screening and other purposes.
Copies of the e-mails show that, starting in January 2009, the FDA intercepted communications with congressional staffers and draft versions of whistleblower complaints complete with editing notes in the margins. […]
FDA computers post a warning, visible when users log on, that they should have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” in any data passing through or stored on the system, and that the government may intercept any such data at any time for any lawful government purpose.
But in the suit, the doctors and scientists say the government violated their constitutional privacy rights by gazing into personal e-mail accounts for the purpose of monitoring activity that they say was lawful. […]
An FDA spokeswoman, Erica Jefferson, said the agency does not comment on litigation. […]
Yet the case sheds light on the lengths to which a federal agency will go to monitor employees. At issue, experts say, is whether the purpose of the monitoring was legal and what level of monitoring on government computers is reasonable at a time when technology increasingly blurs the lines between work and home.