Reports say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration snooped through thousands of email messages sent by its employees, seeking out whistleblowers who could have hurt the FDA’s reputation. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is looking into the allegations of the agency’s clandestine surveillance.

“The FDA has been spying on employees’ personal mail,” Grassley says. “It’s shocking. It’s big government, Big Brother, 1984. The more we learn, the worse it seems to be.” The agency reportedly kept an “enemies list” and collected some 80-thousand pages of documents from hosts of agency workers, researchers, journalists and even members of Congress. Grassley says the FDA’s actions are inexcusable.

“The agency’s efforts appear to have been extensive and targeted to intercept confidential communication between agency whistleblowers and Congress,” Grassley says. “Retaliation appears to have been very swift.”

At least four of the FDA scientists were fired. Some of the intercepted emails were accidentally posted online. If it wasn’t for that “fluke,” Grassley says the public may never have learned the extent of the monitoring.

Grassley says, “The FDA’s actions raise serious implications for the right of any agency employee to make protected disclosures about waste, fraud and abuse, mismanagement or even public safety to Congress or anyone else.”

While federal agencies are allowed to monitor employees’ computer use, the FDA may have overstepped its bounds in seeking out whistleblowers’ complaints, what Grassley says is protected communication.