The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service erased animal welfare documents from its website last week to protect personal information. However, the same information resurfaced on a government transparency watchdog site, memoryhole2.org, this week at the same time the Human Society of the U.S. is asking the courts to restore the information, reports Politico.
Under guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act that contain personal information covered by the Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts. According to APHIS, these documents include inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence (such as official warnings), lists of regulated entities and enforcement records (such as pre-litigation settlement agreements and administrative complaints) that have not received final adjudication. Moving forward, those seeking information from APHIS regarding inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence and enforcement records must submit Freedom of Information Act request.
In a clarification statement, the agency states the decision to remove the documents was based on review during the Obama administration and currently involved in litigation in regards to the matter.
The HSUS filed a lawsuit on Feb. 6, asking for the information to be restored to the USDA website. According to the organization, “The suppression of such data also makes it virtually impossible for HSUS and other animal welfare organizations to exercise their First Amendment rights to petition the government for changes and revisions to current USDA policies and regulations.”
Also, HSUS attorneys claim the deletion of information from the site went against a previous settlement reached in a 2009 lawsuit to keep the documents posted.
In response, APHIS released this statement, “In 2016, well before the change of administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, APHIS is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”