By Gene Lucht and Jeff DeYoung, Iowa Farmer Today
Thursday, December 14, 2006 8:27 AM CST
Privacy has been a central issue in the debate over whether to make a National Animal Identification System mandatory or voluntary.
“It’s a legitimate concern,” says Doug O’Brien, a staff attorney at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center in Des Moines.
But, O’Brien, who also works at the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas, says the issues are not black and white. Instead, they are shades of gray. Many could be addressed in the drafting of legislation that could be written to implement a national system.
“It’s fairly complicated,” O’Brien says of an ID program. “The ground is shifting on this.”
But, in the debate over a mandatory vs. a voluntary plan, privacy has been a driving factor.
John Clifford, USDA’s chief veterinary officer at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), agrees privacy has been a central issue.
“Confidentiality is definitely a concern to the private sector,” Clifford says. “We will have the premises identification database, which is nothing more than information from a phone book.
“Federal law will protect the confidential information from disclosure. We will have access to that data in the event of an occurrence.”
O’Brien says that could be addressed in a mandatory system.
There are really two confidentiality issues, he explains. The first is over whether information about animals and their owners could be gotten from the government through a Freedom of Information request. The federal Freedom of Information Act requests would appear to apply to any information gathered by the government about animals.
But, O’Brien says there are nine exemptions to the act that are stipulated in the law, and several could reasonably apply to this situation. For example, there is an exception for confidential business information. Another protects released information that would make it difficult to run a program. These items have been factors in the federal price-reporting law.
Those concerns could be addressed by writing specific statute language that would prohibit such release of information.
The second concern is the potential for government agencies to share the information gathered for a government program.
Again, that could be handled through specific language in a new ID law or it could be part of language to be included in contracts between farmers and the government, O’Brien says.
There are privacy concerns with private ownership of information in a voluntary program.
Farmers might want to make sure federal code or contracts with those private groups would ban the selling of sharing of that information with private groups that might try to use the information for their private gain.