EPA Violated Personal Privacy of Farmers, Ranchers

September 16, 2016

The Environmental Protection Agency has violated the personal privacy of tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers, according to a unanimous ruling issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The ruling in American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council vs. EPA concerned the federal agency's 2013 release to three environmental groups of a vast compilation of spreadsheets containing personal information about farmers and ranchers who raise livestock and poultry in 29 states. The case also related to similar personal information from farmers and ranchers in seven additional states that had yet to be released. The information included the names of farmers, ranchers and sometimes other family members, home addresses, GPS coordinates, telephone numbers and emails. EPA claimed that it was required to disclose the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Farm families usually live on the farm and the court took note that EPA's disclosures in this case could facilitate unwanted contact and harassment of farmers and ranchers by the FOIA requestors and others.

According to AFBF General Counsel Ellen Steen, "This case assures us that individuals still have a privacy interest in their personal information. The fact that government agencies may have that information and even store it on the Internet does not eliminate the individual's privacy interest."

"EPA now has to recall all of the personal information it unlawfully released, but, unfortunately, that information has now been in the hands of the FOIA requestors for three years, and many feel that the damage is done," Steen said.

Reprinted in part from American Farm Bureau Federation