The alleged confidentially breaches started two years ago when the New York Times published an article citing information from FDA scientists about the agency nearing approval of CT scans for colonoscopies and mammograms.
In response to the March 2010 article, the FDA higher-ups asked the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the scientists for illegally leaking classified documents. The department dismissed the investigation, saying the documents were legally given to reporters as "matters of public safety," the Times reported.
FDA took matters into its own hands in April 2010 and began spying on the five scientists, using surveillance software to capture every keystroke, record every email and take screen shots every five seconds. The authorization for the possibly illegal spying was "explicitly authorized, in writing" by the highest officers at the agency, according to Grassley's office.
After the Washington Post reported in January 2012 that FDA scientists were being monitored by the agency, Grassley requested information about the spying from the agency.
Seven months after that request, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg responded, saying her agency began the surveillance in order to protect "trade secrets" and "confidential commercial information" which if made public could "cause competitive harm to the company submitting the information."
Breaching confidentially could also land the FDA in a civil lawsuit and the agency's employees could be charged with criminal or monetary penalties, Hamburg wrote in the July 13 letter.
But Grassley refuted the FDA's claims that they were merely protecting confidentiality.
"The scope and tone of the surveillance effort reveals an agency more concerned about protecting itself than protecting the public, which ironically is the agency's mission," Grassley said Tuesday in a statement.