A U.S. judge has sided with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and ordered the sealing of a Chinese scientist’s name, even though the name was made public by the NIH in 2020.
The documents had been released by the NIH to Empower Oversight, the plaintiff in the case.
Anderson said he found that the “targeted and limited sealing” was “the least drastic alternative available” and that First Amendment presumptions in favor of public access to records were outweighed for reasons set forth in the NIH’s filings.
The NIH had said that it “inadvertently failed” to redact the names of the Chinese scientist and the NIH worker who corresponded with the scientist.
Order Entered Too SoonEmpower Oversight responded in a motion on July 27, asserting that the judge entered his order too soon.
The nonprofit noted that it had seven days to respond to the NIH’s July 15 motion, but that Anderson entered the order before that period of time elapsed.
Opposition to the motion was filed on July 22. But Anderson did not consider the opposition because his order was entered five minutes earlier, according to the court docket.
Anderson’s chambers referred a request for comment to the clerk’s office for the U.S. courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. The clerk’s office said it would only respond to inquiries sent by mail.
No ‘Compelling Government Interest’The Chinese scientist in question was identified as Kangpeng Xiao of South China Agricultural University in an exhibit that is now under seal. Xiao successfully lobbied the NIH to remove data his team submitted to the Sequence Read Archive, a database the agency manages.
The emails and paper were released months before the NIH provided Xiao’s name to Empower Oversight.
The group argued that the NIH had failed to present “a compelling governmental interest” that supported sealing the name of Xiao and the NIH worker with whom Xiao corresponded.
Under ScrutinyThe NIH has been under scrutiny for its handling of requests from Xiao and other scientists, including one whose identity has not yet been confirmed.
The NIH has maintained that the data was still accessible, but only offline.
He said the data should have instead been “suppressed,” which would have kept it online but made it harder to find than normal sequences.