The Environmental Protection Agency's public release of farmers' and ranchers' personal information violates basic tenets of federal law, the American Farm Bureau Federation told a Minnesota federal court late Friday.
The EPA surprised agriculture community last year by releasing personal information about thousands of farmers and ranchers in 29 states. According to AFBF, the information was distributed to three environmental groups that had filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The database included the names of farmers, ranchers and sometimes other family members, home addresses, GPS coordinates, telephone numbers and emails.
"The EPA is displaying a callous disregard for basic privacy rights," AFBF President Bob Stallman said. "EPA believes that if information about you can be found somewhere on the Internet, or if you own a closely held family corporation, you have no interest in protecting your personal information. All citizens should be worried about that, not just farmers and ranchers."
AFBF's court filing argues that privacy interests are particularly strong for farming and ranching families, who typically have multiple generations living and working on the farm. The lawsuit cites a Freedom of Information Act exemption aimed at preventing federal agencies from publicly releasing personal information held in agency files.
"We wholeheartedly support government transparency, but we insist on protecting the privacy of farm and ranch families," Stallman said.
AFBF, joined by the National Pork Producers Council, filed the lawsuit last July to block EPA from responding to new FOIA requests seeking information about farmers and ranchers in six additional states.
EPA agreed not to release further information pending the court's decision in this lawsuit. AFBF's latest filing asks the court for a permanent order preventing future disclosures of farmers' and ranchers' personal information in response to similar requests.