The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) has the right to make a partnering U.S. lab wipe all data arising from their collaborative work, a legal document reveals.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) of cooperation, signed between the Wuhan lab and the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, makes it obligatory for each of the two labs to delete “secret files” or materials upon the request of the other party.
“The party is entitled to ask the other to destroy and/or return the secret files, materials, and equipment without any backups,” states the MOU obtained by U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative research group focused on public health, through a freedom of information request.
The MOU focused on promoting research and training cooperation between the two labs. It was signed in 2017 and stays in effect through this October. But the confidentiality terms would remain binding even after the agreement’s five-year-duration expires, the agreement states.
The document goes on to broadly define what materials are to be treated as “confidential,” opening the door to potentially all documents and data from any collaboration being subject to a deletion request.
“All cooperation and exchange documents, details and materials shall be treated as confidential info by the parties,” the MOU states.
The WIV has been at the center of the controversy due to growing speculation that the virus that causes COVID-19, which has now killed millions around the globe, may have leaked from the facility. The lab has denied these allegations but Beijing has blocked international investigators to data and records from the facility thus preventing any meaningful probe into the hypothesis.
WIV and the the Galveston National Laboratory formally declared their partnership the following year to “streamline future scientific and operational collaborations on dangerous pathogens,” according to a joint announcement in the journal Science.
Experts said the MOU terms about data removal raise alarm bells and can potentially constitute a breach of the law.
“The clause is quite frankly explosive,” Reuben Guttman, a partner at Guttman, Buschner & Brooks PLLC who focuses on ensuring the integrity of government programs, told Right to Know. “Anytime I see a public entity, I would be very concerned about destroying records.”
“You can’t just willy nilly say, ‘well, you know, the Chinese can tell us when to destroy a document.’ It doesn’t work like that,” he added. “There has to be a whole protocol.”
By Eva Fu