“[T]he individuals have a substantial privacy interest in avoiding harassment or media scrutiny that would likely follow disclosure,” wrote a lawyer for the NIH to the judge. “Sealing is therefore necessary to protect this information from any further public dissemination.”
But what is actually being protected? The American public’s right to access public information that may reveal what kicked off the pandemic, or the purported privacy rights of a scientist who lives thousands of miles away in China? This legal ploy further highlights the NIH’s aggressive, haphazard approach to redacting documents and hiding information that might explain how the pandemic started.
In an 18-page declaration to the court, NIH FOIA Officer Gorka Garcia-Malene detailed how the NIH redacts documents in compliance with the law. In the case of Exempt 6 privacy concerns, Garcia-Malene declared:
Exemption 6 mandates the withholding of information that if disclosed “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6). Exemption 6 was applied here due to the heightened public scrutiny with anything remotely related to COVID-19.
Mr. Garcia-Malene also claimed that information had be redacted “because of the amount of misinformation surrounding the pandemic and its origins.” Seriously, the NIH is now arguing in court that because there is so much misinformation about how the pandemic began, they can’t release facts that might clear up misinformation about how the pandemic began.
Garcia-Malene also asserted, “If released, this type of information could be used by the public to send threatening and harassing messages.”
However, in a second production of records—and going through the exact same process of complying with the law when redacting documents as explained to the court by Garcia-Malene—the NIH provided the exact same email to Empower Oversight, but did not redact the names.
In their court filing, Empower Oversight highlighted how the NIH is now citing the fear of “threatening and harassing messages” to redact documents in a haphazard manner, telling the judge, “NIH used this approach in instances where there was no legitimate threat of such harassment. NIH repeatedly redacted the official NIH email address of Dr. Francis Collins, even though he had retired months before NIH’s May 13th production of responsive records.”
Read the full article HERE.