Montana Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus are demanding that the EPA take immediate action to better protect the personal information of Montana ranchers after the agency accidentally released livestock producers’ names, addresses, and telephone numbers – not once, but twice.
In response to a public information request, the EPA mistakenly distributed the personal information of livestock producers in 30 states. The agency compounded its error weeks later when it again released similar information for ranchers in Montana and Nebraska.
“It is simply unacceptable that an agency entrusted with sensitive personal information should make such a careless mistake,” Tester and Baucus told EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “I urge your agency to thoroughly investigate how this mistake occurred, and report back on your plans to ensure it will not happen in the future.”
In addition to releasing producers’ names and contact information, the EPA documents provided the locations of livestock facilities. The EPA has requested the information’s return, but Tester says he has heard from constituents concerned about the safety of their families and businesses.
Tester and Baucus said that the agency needs accountable leadership and that Congress should quickly confirm its next permanent administrator. Last week, Republicans boycotted a key vote on EPA nominee Gina McCarthy.
The agency has now been without a Senate-confirmed administrator for three months.
Baucus, who is a senior member of the Committee tasked with approving the nomination, met personally with McCarthy and secured her commitment to hold the agency accountable and ensure personal information is protected.
“We need to make sure folks in government have all the tools they need to be successful,” Tester and Baucus said. “Congress needs to stop stalling and confirm a leader at the EPA who will make sure mistakes like this don’t happen again.”
Tester, a staunch defender of Montanans’ civil liberties, recently took the IRS to task for violating Americans’ constitutional rights by gathering personal emails without a warrant.
Tester and Baucus’ letter to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe is available below.
May 13, 2013
Mr. Bob Perciasepe
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3000
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Acting Administrator Perciasepe:
We are writing today to express our deep concerns over the release of some of our constituents’ personally identifiable information to non-government entities. For a second time in two months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released personal information of Montana’s livestock producers.
In March, EPA responded to a Freedom of Information Act Request from several groups with information on confined animal feeding operations. However, rather than redacting personally identifiable information, EPA provided names, home addresses, telephone numbers and even geographic coordinates for thousands of livestock facilities in 30 states, including states that do not require the publication of such information.
EPA subsequently found that this personal information “implicates a substantial privacy interest that outweighs any public interest in disclosure,” and requested that the information be returned, and any copies destroyed. The requestors claim to have complied with this request, and we have no reason to believe otherwise. While information determined to be private should never have been released in the first place, only a few weeks later, EPA again released a dataset containing similar information on livestock producers in Montana and Nebraska.
We have heard from our constituents that the release of their names and addresses has caused them justifiable concern for the security of their homes and businesses. While we appreciate that the EPA has admitted its error, it is simply unacceptable that an agency entrusted with sensitive personal information should make such a careless mistake. We urge your agency to thoroughly investigate how this mistake occurred, and report back on your plans to ensure it will not happen in the future. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.
Jon Tester and Max Baucus
SOURCE: Senator Jon Tester