FARFA’s Comments to USDA on Privacy Act Notice

The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA) is a non-profit organization headquartered in Austin, Texas. Founded in April 2006, FARFA has 500 members in 45 states and more than 1,700 subscribers to its mailing list from across the country. FARFA is dedicated to protecting the interests of independent farmers, ranchers, homesteaders, and other livestock owners.

FARFA joins in the comments submitted by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, and adds the comments below, on USDA’s Notice at 73 Fed. Reg. 23412 (Privacy Act Notice on NAIS) (Apr. 30, 2008). FARFA urges that the agency suspend all collection of information under the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and expunge the information collected to date.

The Privacy Act requires that government agencies publish a notice in the Federal Register when they establish any system of records. 5 USC sec. 552a(e)(4). Yet the USDA only published this Notice after collecting information on hundreds of thousands of people and people’s property. This belated attempt to comply with the Privacy Act is insufficient to remedy the harm already done.

Moreover, the USDA’s list of the “routine uses” for which the collected information can be disclosed is inconsistent with both the statute and individuals’ rights to privacy. The Notice proposed that the agency should be allowed to disclose the information to any government agency, including foreign agencies, for any potential violation of any law. In other words, while USDA claims that it is collecting this information simply to create 48-hour traceback of animal movements in case of a disease outbreak, it seeks to be able to disclose this information to agencies such as the IRS, BLM, city zoning boards, and any other governmental entity for reasons that may be completely unrelated to animal disease.

The Privacy Act already provides for information to be released pursuant to a written request by a law enforcement agency or by order of a court of competent jurisdiction. Yet the Notice would allow the agency to release information to the Department of Justice or a court without these protections.

Another of the listed “routine uses” is the release of the information to contractors and other private parties. The Notice reflects USDA’s lack of understanding or regard for the sensitivity of the information that would be collected under its NAIS program. How does USDA propose to prevent private entities from misusing people’s confidential business information? The reality is that there would be no way to prevent misuse, hackers, or the sorts of accidental releases that have already occurred in other programs.

The USDA should not be collecting the information in the NAIS databases at all. Rather than issuing a belated Privacy Act Notice, USDA should halt implementation of NAIS and perform the scientific and economic analyses that it has failed to do to date.