November 6, 2013
On behalf of the undersigned groups, we urge you to oppose including provisions in the conferenced version of the Farm Bill that unnecessarily cut off public access to a broad swath of information about agricultural and livestock operations. This language would undermine the Freedom of Information Act’s (FOIA) goal of transparency and it eviscerates the Act’s balanced approach to weigh the public interest in the release of information.
Members of the public have a right to know about agricultural and livestock operations that affect them, including where such operations are located. This information is especially critical for people who live near or share waterways with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Yet the language included in the House-passed version of the Farm Bill (HR 2642) requires the government to withhold even basic information about the location of livestock operations.
FOIA (5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) ) includes strong protections of personal, private information that proponents seek through the provision. Agencies routinely rely on exemption 6 to withhold email addresses, phone numbers, and other similar information of non-government individuals. Indeed, after determining that it improperly released personal information related to CAFOs earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked requesters who had received the information to return it to the agency.
The requesters complied.
Beyond being unnecessary to protect the information of individuals and small family farms, the language included in the House-passed bill is exceedingly broad and vague. The provision does not define “owners” or “operators,” and thus permits the information of large corporate operations to be kept from public view alongside the information of individuals and small family operations. As the Supreme Court reaffirmed in FCC v. AT&T, Inc., Congress never intended to extend the FOIA’s protections for personal privacy to corporations and Congress must not do so now.
We urge you to oppose any effort to require the government to deny the public access to information about livestock and agricultural operations. Including this language in the conferenced version of the Farm Bill is bad for transparency and accountability, and is unnecessary. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this issue further, please contact Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org (firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-332-6736).
American Association of Law Libraries
American Library Association
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
Center for Effective Government
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW
Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition
Colorado Press Association
The Constitution Project
Defending Dissent Foundation
First Amendment Coalition
Freedom of Information Center at the Missouri School of Journalism
Government Accountability Project – GAP
Iowa Freedom of Information Council
Knowledge Ecology International
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Security Archive
New England First Amendment Coalition
Northern California Association of Law Libraries
Ohio Newspaper Association
Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition
Progressive Librarians Guild
Project On Government Oversight – POGO
Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility – PEER
Public Record Media
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Sage Information Services
Society of American Archivists
Society for Professional Journalists
South Dakota Newspaper Association
Student Press Law Center
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse
Washington Coalition for Open Government
Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
cc: Chairman Darrel Issa, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee