Judge orders govt. to turn over unredacted docs on Covid-19 data deletions

A judge in the Eastern District of Virginia has ordered the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide unredacted copies of certain documents to ascertain whether NIH improperly redacted them.

This ruling pertains to a lawsuit filed by Empower Oversight, a watchdog group seeking information on the NIH’s deletion of Covid-19 genetic data at the request of a Chinese researcher.

The judge’s order was issued in connection with NIH’s motion for summary judgment, which Empower Oversight is contesting.

The judge has ordered NIH to provide to the court unredacted versions of exhibits cited by Empower Oversight.

Efforts by Empower Oversight to probe deletion of Covid-19 data by the NIH have been ongoing for more than a year, with an initial FOIA request for documents filed in July 2021, and the lawsuit filed in November 2021 when the documents were not turned over.

Empower Oversight amended its lawsuit in March to challenge what it called improper redactions of answers to questions posed by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennesee), and Roger Marshall (R-Kansas)

Earlier this year, Empower Oversight released the latest iteration of its Covid Origins Timeline, a crowdsourced research document that tracks virus research and how the pandemic unfolded. This group delivered its research to all members of Congress.

The judge has also left in place, for now, a magistrate’s order that, oddly, sealed information that had already been made public: namely the name of a Chinese researcher. NIH had previously disclosed that information in other litigation, and it was referenced in an article cited in the NIH’s own filings. Empower Oversight has argued the judge’s order is erroneous since the information is already available.

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