Commentary: 007 in farmland

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National events this summer seem to have taken a page from a spy thriller. With accusations of government surveillance methods being used on American citizens and the media’s coverage from Hong Kong to Moscow of National Security Agency leaks, it’s easy to see why Americans would question the government’s ability or willingness to protect their privacy.

I typically leave espionage for the movies. But, when the government tries to expose farmers’ and ranchers’ personal information, the issues of government data collecting and personal privacy hit home – literally.

From Russia with Love

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.

For Your Eyes Only

Farm Bureau frequently advocates for increased government transparency, but publicly sharing spreadsheet upon spreadsheet of tens of thousands of peoples’ names, addresses and other personal information is not transparency in the workings of government. It is an invasion of Americans’ privacy.

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.



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