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Protecting privacy in today’s transparent age

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 August 2013

If you’ve been paying attention, you know this hasn’t been a banner year for public confidence in power of government.

Some recent cases from the headlines:

• The Internal Revenue Service was forced to account for its aggressive procedures when reviewing non-profit tax status applications by tea party and conservative political groups.

Watchdog investigation groups later disclosed that the IRS illegally provided them confidential application files from conservative political groups before they were approved by the IRS.

• The Justice Department disclosed that it was wiretapping Associated Press reporters’ work and cell phones to stop outside leaks. One reporter was named as a criminal co-conspirator, and his movements, e-mails and phone calls were monitored.

• National Security Agency surveillance programs came to light showing how the agency collects information (known as metadata) from millions of Americans on Facebook, Verizon, Yahoo and Google. New documents say the NSA violated court limits on how the data can be used.

• The Environmental Protection Agency admitted in April that it wrongly released personal and sensitive information on tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers to environmental activist groups requesting documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

So what’s the cumulative conclusion? The government has a compulsive need for your private personal information – and it does a terrible job protecting it.

Given this track record, you cannot begrudge the American Farm Bureau Federation for waging a legal fight against the EPA this summer.

In July, the AFBF filed a lawsuit to stop the EPA from releasing more FOIA requests. Their goal: to stop the agency from releasing private info on ranchers and farmers, including names, personal contact info and notes on families and employees.

EPA required state agencies to gather that material and then released it in its entirety. AFBF wants the courts to clarify how much EPA can share.

“We are sticking up for the tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers whose personal information would end up in the public domain,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman in a statement. “This lawsuit is about the government’s unjustified intrusion into citizens’ private lives.”

It’s important to note that the AFBF does not oppose the public’s right to know how farms and ranches follow environmental rules.

Today’s producers understand their operations do have a broader community impact, and that demands a level of transparency with the proper regulatory agencies.

The Freedom of Information Act, along with other state sunshine laws, ensures an informed citizenry. But in their zest to try and equate farmers, ranchers and feedlot owners to Chernobyl, some environmental activists have proven reckless with information they have and are willing to do literal harm to some operations.

With many ranches and farms being also residential settings for many operators, the information revealed about ag operations can create conflicts on disclosure the courts need to rectify.

As 2013 has proven, when you assume your private information is in safe government hands, you assume too much.  end mark

cooper_david_pc

 
David Cooper
Editor
Progressive Cattleman magazine

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