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Editorial: ‘Big Brother’ is watching the farm and his name is EPA
By Mike Barnett
In this age of free-flowing information, when most anything can be found in cyberspace, it’s a little disconcerting that government knows the most intimate details of your family, finances, and business. It’s downright alarming when they release that information to those who might do you harm.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released personal information about thousands of livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers in 20 states in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from three environmental organizations. The massive data release included home phone numbers, home emails, employee contact information, home addresses, GPS coordinates, and, in some cases, personal notes about the families, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
When agriculture groups protested, EPA redacted some of the information and asked the groups to return the original information. But the horse was out of the barn.
Now EPA intends to release more personal information on farmers in a number of states. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council say enough is enough.
They are seeking an immediate court order stopping EPA until a court can clarify EPA’s obligation to keep personal information about private citizens private.
EPA’s actions go far beyond collection of farm and ranch business data for government use. Personal information in the wrong hands can lead to disruptions in farm activity, farm equipment theft, even sabotage or criminal mischief. Remember, many of these farms store chemicals and fertilizers or have large numbers of animals on the farms. It’s a crazy world we live in today and those factors can make them targets.
EPA claims they have no legal obligation under the Freedom of Information Act to keep the information private. That is typical bureaucratic nonsense.
We agree with American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. Farm Bureau is not only standing up for farmers in this case, but is also standing up for all citizens who shouldn’t have their private information publicly disseminated by their government.
We hope that the court sees eye-to-eye with the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council and reins in this craziness. Farmers and ranchers not only work on the farm, they and their families live there, too. Dishing out their personal information for the world to see is an invasion of privacy, plain and simple.
Mike Barnett is director of Publications at the Texas Farm Bureau.
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