White House Tells EPIC to Delete COVID-19 Records, EPIC Declines
July 23, 2020
In an unusual development, the White House directed EPIC this week to delete a set of records that EPIC recently obtained from the Office of Science & Technology Policy—a request which EPIC declined. On Tuesday, EPIC published hundreds of records about the White House’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and proposals to use location data for public health surveillance (1, 2, 3, 4). Hours later, a White House attorney sent EPIC a letter “order[ing]” EPIC “to immediately cease using and disclosing" one set of records and to “destroy all electronics copies.” The letter stated that OSTP had "inadvertently and erroneously" provided EPIC with an unredacted copy of the records. Although EPIC voluntarily decided to redact personal contact information contained in the documents, EPIC informed the OSTP that it would still make the records available to the public. Under the Freedom of Information Act, a federal agency is not entitled to “claw back” a record that it discloses to a requester. EPIC has filed numerous FOIA requests concerning the federal government’s COVID-19 response and has compiled a resource page about privacy and the pandemic.