Activist Wins Ruling that Animal-research Records Must Be Open

Activist Wins Ruling that Animal-research Records Must Be Open

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state records committee has agreed with a college freshman that University of Utah research proposals involving animals are public documents.

Jeremy Beckham, the university student and animal-rights activist, successfully argued Thursday that he should be allowed to examine the protocols used in the school's animal research.

The panel told the university to hand over the records minus confidential information that could jeopardize the safety of scientists and the proprietary nature of their work.

The committee left it to the university to decide what information to withhold and how much Beckham should pay for the work in providing the documents.

"What I'm really worried about is that I'm going to have to pay a couple hundred dollars to get a few pages of black magic marker," Beckham said.

The committee's legal adviser, Mark Burns, said the university may have to hire a patent lawyer -- at Beckham's expense -- to distinguish between what is public and what is proprietary.

Burns also suggested that Beckham's request could be denied if the alterations make the documents unintelligible.

The records Beckham seeks would disclose how the animals are treated in the research. However, the protocols also specify what experimental drugs and procedures are being tested, and that information, if made public, could benefit competitors.

University attorney Phyllis Vetter argued that most of the information Beckham was seeking will be made public anyway once the research is published.

The process of redaction "is too great a burden" for the school, she said. "People aren't just sitting around at the university waiting for records requests."

Jack Taylor, who oversees the university's research labs, said that prematurely releasing the names of researchers "sets them up for some kind of harassment."

He said one researcher at the university bought a gun after protesters showed up at his house.

Records committee members agreed that such information could be removed.

Vetter said the university will wait to see the official order from the records panel before it decides whether to comply or appeal the decision to state district court.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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