USDA Ordered to Release NAIS Data

Agricultural journalist Mary-Louise Zanoni has succeeded in keeping the USDA from applying Privacy Act safeguards to information it has collected from livestock owners as part of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). These safeguards would have restricted access to the information by journalists as well as the livestock owners whose information might be included without their knowledge.

In a landmark ruling June 4, Federal District Judge for the District of Columbia, Emmet Sullivan, suspended indefinitely the USDA's plans to protect the information under the 1974 Privacy Act.

The information in question is a list of farms and ranches collected through voluntary premises identification since 2004 and potentially through other means which sources say amount to data mining. In her suit, Zanoni sought a restraining order and alleged that not only has the USDA collected premises information from landowners who did not voluntarily submit that information, but it has failed to remove that information from the list when requested to do so by the landowners.

Len Brown, of the law firm Clymer & Musser of Lancaster, Pa., represented Zanoni in the case. He commented, "It boils down to a database created by the U.S. government in an inappropriate way. This created huge hurdles for journalists trying to write about NAIS.

"The rules say people being placed in a database such as this need to be notified, but the USDA has admitted to data mining from sources like state veterinarians and avian flu records, even entry lists from county fairs," Brown stated.

Although Zanoni's action against the USDA garnered a fairly swift response from the federal District Court, Brown said they're still trying to get the USDA to release the database.

"We filed a motion for summary judgment on July 2," Brown said "The USDA will have until August 9 to respond, after which we expect a decision within 60 days.

"Stopping them from converting to a Privacy Act was a really significant step," Brown added, "but the USDA is still not responding as we think they should.

"I certainly think it's adding to people's suspicions about NAIS," he continued. "And it begs the question, 'who at the USDA did not consider the Privacy Act in 2004 and 2005?' Someone will likely have to answer for that."

About the Author

Karen Briggs

Karen Briggs is the author of six books, including the recently updated Understanding Equine Nutrition as well as Understanding The Pony, both published by Eclipse Press. She's written a few thousand articles on subjects ranging from guttural pouch infections to how to compost your manure. She is also a Canadian certified riding coach, an equine nutritionist, and works in media relations for the harness racing industry. She lives with her band of off-the-track Thoroughbreds on a farm near Guelph, Ontario, and dabbles in eventing.

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