A federal district court in Minnesota dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block EPA from releasing the personal information of farmers. Last year a radical environmental group asked the EPA for the personal information of farmers who had been issued permits to operate livestock facilities. The EPA complied and released names, addresses, phone numbers, and even GPS coordinates of these operations. Outraged, the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council petitioned to stop any further release of information. Late Tuesday, the court ruled the government could release this information. Don Villwock, President IFB is furious, “Farmers take their privacy and their records very seriously and only want to share with those who have a need to know or those who can help them in their business, but to release this information to a public database is deeply disturbing.” He added that activist groups with an agenda could use this information to harm a farming operation or do damage to its livestock. EPA has already released personal information of farmers and ranchers from 29 states.
Villwock said farmers have nothing to hide but feel the personal details of their operations should not be a matter of public record, “I would ask the general public: would they like their personal information, their address, and other private information made public so criminals and others could find out exactly where you live?” Bob Stallman, President of AFBF, said in a statement, “Farmers, ranchers, and citizens in general should be concerned about the court’s disregard for individual privacy. This court seems to believe that the Internet age has eliminated the individual’s interest in controlling the distribution of his or her personal information. We strongly disagree.”
The court concluded that no federally permitted livestock or poultry farmer is injured by such disclosure because the Clean Water Act mandates disclosure of information concerning permit issuance. For livestock and poultry farmers without a Clean Water Act permit, the court concluded that, so long as the farmer’s personal information can be found somewhere on the Internet, EPA’s distribution of that same information does not result in any injury to the farmer. The court noted that a farmer with a public Facebook page used to promote the farm or whose information could be found via search engine or any state regulatory website in any form has no right to sue to stop the federal government from compiling and distributing that information. Villwock told HAT having a Facebook page is not the same as having the confidential personal and business information you share with the EPA released to activist groups.
AFBF and the NPPC plan to appeal the ruling. Villwock said this ruling could make farmers less likely to sign up for government programs, “Farmers are asked to participate in a number of federal programs, but, if our information is going to become public, I am not sure I or many other farmers will want to participate in those programs.” AFBF and its co-plaintiff the National Pork Producers Council have 60 days to appeal the decision.