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EPIC director leaves after backlash over handling of COVID-19 test

EPIC's staff told the board that Marc Rotenberg came to work and held meetings after his doctor directed him to take a test that later came back positive.

Marc Rotenberg

EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg is leaving his position.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center is leaving the organization, the chair of EPIC's board said in a statement Tuesday. The news comes after members of EPIC's staff told the board that their boss, Marc Rotenberg, came to work and held meetings after his doctor directed him to take a COVID-19 test that later came back positive. The allegations were first reported by Protocol last week.

In a statement posted to EPIC's website, board chair Anita Allen wrote that "the time has come for new leadership at EPIC."

"Marc has contributed tremendously as a scholar and advocate to a powerful global movement in support of privacy, freedom of expression and democratic values," Allen wrote. "He has helped shape EPIC's values-driven policy and advocacy related to the internet, artificial intelligence and government surveillance." Rotenberg has recently been an outspoken critic of invasive surveillance efforts to address the spread of COVID-19.

EPIC's general counsel, Alan Butler, was named interim executive director while the organization looks for a permanent replacement. Neither Allen nor Rotenberg immediately responded to requests for comment.

Last week, Protocol reported on the staff's concerns, citing interviews with several current and former employees, as well as internal documents and Rotenberg's own letter to the staff. According to the letter, Rotenberg's doctor instructed him to take a COVID-19 test on March 6, just before Rotenberg was set to take off on a flight to Miami for the weekend. Rotenberg, who said he had not been symptomatic, continued on his trip and took the test when he returned to Washington, D.C., the following Monday.

Rotenberg went to work that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning, leaving the office as soon as he received a call telling him his test came back positive. But he didn't inform his employees of any of this until that Thursday, a day after EPIC's D.C.-based staff got a call from the public health authority informing them they were exposed to someone with the virus. Rotenberg later said in his letter that he had followed protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On March 20, EPIC employees wrote to the board, asking its members to take action.

Allen's statement on Tuesday didn't directly address the staff concerns or whether Rotenberg's departure was based on the board's decision. In an email obtained by Protocol that was sent to EPIC's board of advisers over the weekend, Allen wrote that the board had been working closely with Rotenberg and EPIC employees to address the issue since March 12. Allen also assured the board of advisers that EPIC was "financially sound."

"Rest assured that we are doing our jobs, and that Marc has, over the past six weeks, accountably provided the board with the detailed information we requested," Allen wrote in the email.

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