The bill "Farmer Identity Protection Act" was introduced last week in Congress to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing agricultural producers’ private information into the public domain, which EPA has done in the past.
The legislation was introduced by Congressman Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) and co-sponsored by Representatives Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.), and Mike McIntrye (D-N.C.). It is a response to EPA’s 2013 release of agricultural producers’ private information to environmental groups filing Freedom of Information Act requests, which included names, addresses, phone numbers and GPS coordinates of more than 80,000 agricultural producers in 30 states.
“In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency twice violated the privacy rights of producers by releasing the personal information of livestock and poultry producers to various environmental activist groups,” Crawford said. “Not only did these unprecedented actions violate individual privacy rights, they represent a possible bio-security threat to our nation’s food supply.”
EPA obtained the information through State Environmental Quality agencies and released it through FOIA requests. EPA admitted it did not review the data to determine if any of the information was confidential business or personal information protected by federal privacy laws.
Crawford said an overwhelming majority of the released farm information pertains to families, who may now face threats to their homes and businesses.
“Uncontrolled access to this accumulation of personal and geospatial data can allow private information to end up in the wrong hands,” Crawford said. “Producers agree that these types of actions pose risks, which may include targeted harassment and even bio-terrorism.”
Both the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have expressed concerns regarding potential risks when EPA pursued—and later abandoned—a rulemaking requiring livestock producers to report personal information directly to its agency.
The bill would prevent EPA from making producers’ private information public, including names, telephone numbers, physical addresses, email addresses, GPS coordinates, and other identifying location information.
Livestock and poultry groups recently wrote a letter to Congress supporting the Farmer Identity Protection Act. These groups included American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council, Dairylea Cooperative, Inc., National Turkey Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, St. Albans Cooperative Creamer, Inc., National Chicken Council, and Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc.