ST. PAUL, MN (WSAU) - A government agency is under fire for its plans to release personal information in a public report.
The American Farm Bureau Federation announced they have filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA plans to release a report that includes the names, addresses, GPS coordinates, and other personal information of farmers and ranchers. The AFBF’s position is these are private records and should not be released to the public.
The AFBF has filed several requests to the EPA under the Freedom of Information Act, and they have asked a U.S. District Court in Minnesota to issue a temporary restraining order against the EPA to try and stop the release of information.
“We are sticking up for the tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers whose personal information would end up in the public domain,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “This lawsuit is about the government’s unjustified intrusion into citizens’ private lives.”
In a statement, the AFBF said it does not necessarily object to the collection of aggregated data of farm and ranch business information for government use, but in the wrong hands personal location information could disrupt farm activity and lead to farm equipment theft or even sabotage or criminal mischief, especially for those farms that store fertilizer and chemicals or have large numbers of animals on the farm.
Earlier this year, the EPA released personal information about thousands of livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers in 29 states in response to FOIA requests from three environmental organizations. AFBF says this massive data release contained tens of thousands of lines in spreadsheets which included home phone numbers, home emails, employee contact information, home addresses and in some cases personal notes about the families. They claim the EPA required state regulatory agencies to provide the information, which was then publicly released in its entirety.
The EPA says it has no legal obligation under the Freedom Of Information Act to keep most of the information private. They also claim most of these records are already available at state websites.
Stallman says this issue goes much farther than protecting the privacy of farmers and ranchers. “In the scope of everything happening nationally with the exposure of citizens’ private information, it’s time to say enough is enough,” adding, “Farm Bureau is not only standing up for farmers in this case, but we are also standing up for all citizens who shouldn’t have their personal information publicly disseminated by their government.”
The National Pork Producers Council joined AFBF in the lawsuit. Their attorneys say this information could be used by “activist groups intent on hurting farmers.” They also have concerns about groups like the Sierra Club and the Pew Charitable Trusts using the data to harass farmers with Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or to sue farmers for alleged Clean Water Act violations.