Court favors EPA in farmer privacy lawsuit
Federal district court in Minnesota says Clean Water Act mandates disclosure of information concerning permit issuance
A federal district court in Minnesota on January 27 dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from releasing the personal information -- such as a person’s name, home address, GPS location and telephone number -- of livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
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.
“Farmers, ranchers and citizens in general should be concerned about the court’s disregard for individual privacy,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). “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 plaintiffs in the case, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and AFBF have 60 days to appeal the decision.Prior to the suit, EPA had already released personal information of farmers and ranchers from 29 states. AFBF filed suit to block further disclosures regarding farmers and ranchers in Minnesota, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma and Washington.