Congressional investigators want the Drug Enforcement Administration to explain why it purchased software used to spy on employees, expanding their inquiry into how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration used the same software to monitor personal accounts of agency scientists.
The staff of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter Monday to the DEA asking how the agency uses SpectorSoft software called "eBlaster." Grassley's office also wants to know who at the agency authorized the purchase of the software in 2011 and for what purposes, and whether employee email contacts with Congress were monitored.
The letter expands the investigation in which Grassley's office is pressing the FDA for more details on the employee monitoring program, including which attorney or attorneys inside the agency may have explicitly authorized the use of the software to monitor communications, including those with Congressional offices that are supposed to be protected under whistleblower laws.
In that highest-profile case, six former FDA scientists have sued the agency, alleging that the government violated their privacy rights, and that they were fired in retaliation for raising concerns about the agency's approval of medical imaging devices. The FDA says they were fired for disclosing confidential information. Grassley (R-Iowa) has taken the lead in Congress investigating the program.
Monday’s letter is a response to a National Law Journal article that first reported the DEA and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had purchased the eBlaster software, which is specifically marketed to employers and parents as a way to "monitor your children or employees from anywhere."
In that article, agency spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said via email it is used "for law enforcement purposes, not for monitoring employee communication." Dearden also said DEA employees "are aware that communications through and matters stored on official equipment can be monitored and reviewed."