Politics

Farmers blast EPA for attempting to release their personal information

Farmers blast EPA for attempting to release their personal information

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, wrote a fiery editorial for the AFB’s August publication in which he castigates the Environmental Protection Agency for attempting to release private information it had collected about farmers – a scandal which attracted the attention of Congress last month.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently was planning to publicly release personal information about tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers and their families in response to several Freedom of Information Act requests from media and other companies. The result? Farmers’ and ranchers’ names, home addresses, GPS coordinates and personal contact information would be up for grabs by anyone who asks for it. The American Farm Bureau Federation said, “Not so fast.”

Protecting farmers’ and ranchers’ right to privacy is a top priority for Farm Bureau. That’s why we took legal action. AFBF filed a lawsuit and sought a temporary restraining order to block EPA from releasing the private information into the public domain.

What many people don’t realize is that the majority of farmers and ranchers and their families don’t just work on the farm – they live there, too. By turning over farmers’ names and addresses for public consumption, EPA is inviting intrusion into farm families’ privacy on a nationwide scale. EPA is in effect holding up a loudspeaker and broadcasting where private citizens live and where their children play.

I think most of us would expect this type of behavior if we lived in a different time and place or if we were watching a spy movie. We do not expect it, and will not tolerate it, from our own government.

Stallman’s editorial refers to the NSA surveillance story, which he describes as something out of a “spy thriller.”  His comment about “living in a different time and place” comes just shy of dropping an S-bomb on the EPA, with the S standing for “Stalin.”

He might also have worked in the IRS scandals, several of which also involve disseminating confidential information.  Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell was recently notified by the IRS that her “personal federal tax info may have been compromised and may have been misused by an individual.”  (There are reports that the Treasury Inspector General has now taken an interest in O’Donnell’s case.)  The National Organization for Marriage has long alleged that confidential information about its donors was leaked by the IRS to NOM’s political adversaries.  A few weeks ago, a public advocacy group found that a data file sent to them by the IRS was peppered with tens of thousands of Social Security numbers, harvested from the organizers and employees of non-profit political groups.

As Stallman notes in his conclusion, Big Government must collect big data about its citizens, and it has a responsibility to handle sensitive information with the greatest care:

We don’t object to the aggregation of data on farm and ranch businesses for government use. However, we know all too well that if personal location information ends up in the wrong hands, it could lead to disruptions in farm activity, farm equipment theft, sabotage or criminal mischief. These risks are especially ominous for those farms that store fertilizer and chemicals or have large numbers of animals.

In the scope of everything happening nationally with the exposure of citizens’ private information, it’s time to say enough is enough and put a stop to activities that belong in a spy thriller. Farm Bureau is not only standing up for farmers in this case, we are standing up for all citizens, who shouldn’t have their personal information publicly disseminated by their government.

But a whole lot of “disseminating” has been going on, and thus far there have been no repercussions for those involved, or even any convincing guarantees that it won’t happen again.  Those who have the necessary resources are well-advised to keep a sharp eye on government agencies, and shut down the abuse of confidential data with timely lawsuits.  But what are the rest of us supposed to do?

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