A federal court in Minnesota ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not to release farmers’ and ranchers’ personal information while plaintiffs appeal a district court decision regarding information related to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).
On Jan. 27, Judge Ann Montgomery, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, dismissed a lawsuit brought by the AFBF and National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The lawsuit (0:13-cv-01751-ADM-TNL, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, et. al) was initially filed July 5, 2013. AFBF and NPPC had sought a court injunction to prevent EPA from publicly releasing data under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests until a court could clarify EPA’s obligation to keep personal information about citizens private.
In her 10-page opinion, Judge Montgomery concluded the farm groups lacked standing because the information released by EPA in response to FOIA requests was already publicly available, and the CAFOs have yet to see any injury due to the release of the information. By dismissing the suit, the court ruled that farmers are not harmed when the government compiles and releases a storehouse of personal information, so long as individual bits of that information are somehow publicly accessible, such as through an Internet search or on a Facebook page.
According to court documents, AFBF and NPPC filed the appeal (Case No. 15-1234) in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, on Feb. 3.
“We are pleased that farmers’ and ranchers’ personal information will be protected while we appeal the court’s decision,” said AFBF president Bob Stallman. “We disagree that the Internet age has diminished the individual’s right to protect personal information. Now, more than ever, citizens need their government to help protect their information—not gather it, tie a bow on it, and send it out to anyone who asks.”