WASHINGTON — In its lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding transparency around coronavirus sequencing deletions, Empower Oversight filed a motion to set aside a magistrate judge’s premature order in favor of the NIH’s request to seal documents before receiving and considering arguments opposing the request.
On July 15, NIH requested that the name of a Chinese researcher and an NIH official be removed from filings in the case, even though those names had been provided by NIH both in Empower Oversight’s litigation and in response to a previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from another nonprofit, U.S. Right to Know, years earlier.
On July 22, Empower Oversight filed its opposition to the NIH’s request within the permitted seven-day timeframe. However, minutes earlier, a magistrate judge had entered an order prematurely granting the NIH request without having received or considered Empower Oversight’s arguments.
Empower Oversight opposes this request by NIH simply because NIH has not given a good enough reason to seal two names from the record, and this information has already been available to the public for years.
This is the latest move in Empower Oversight’s lawsuit against the NIH for failure to comply with its obligations to fully and timely respond to a FOIA request from last year about the controversy over the NIH’s agreement to remove coronavirus sequences from an NIH database at the request of Chinese researchers. Since then, Empower Oversight has (1) challenged the improper redaction of answers to U.S. Senators’ questions about the controversy, (2) argued that NIH conducted an incomplete search, and (3) released research into the deletion of COVID-19 sequences based on the documents produced by NIH thus far. Empower Oversight also recently filed an opposition to NIH’s motion for summary judgment.
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