Bona Law Attorneys File Eighth Circuit Amicus Brief Supporting Privacy for Small Businesses
February 17, 2020
Bona Law attorneys Jarod Bona and Aaron Gott filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the National Federation of Independent Business – Small Business Legal Center urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to protect the privacy interests of small businesses against attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assemble and then release to environmental groups private information about those businesses.
The case, American Farmers Bureau Federation v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, concerns the EPA’s gathering of troves of information about individual farming and ranching businesses from various sources and its attempts to release that information to environmental groups through Freedom of Information Act requests. AFBF is appealing a U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota decision rejecting the AFBF’s request for an injunction to prevent the disclosure .
The EPA gathered the information without any statutory authority or legitimate agency interest in doing so. The information it sought to release includes GPS coordinates, home addresses, home telephone numbers, personal email addresses and information documenting the size of these farms and the number of animals on site. Many of those farms are also the residences of the farmers and ranchers who own them.
The NFIB Small Business Legal Center brief first argued that business owners have standing to sue to prevent the release of their information because the release would harm their privacy interests. Simply because the information could be compiled from various state and local sources does not negate the privacy interests of small businesses and their owners. Second, the information had nothing to do with—and was not sought for the purposes of—shedding light on the function and performance of the EPA as a government agency, and therefore was not information “in the public interest,” and thus not releasable under the Freedom of Information Act.
The case raises concerns for all business owners, who often must give all sorts of private information to governments in complying with regulations, seeking permits, and just to exist. That a federal agency can use its vast resources to compile all that information—information that is available only because other governments required those businesses to provide it—and then hand it over to favored interest groups for strategic use against those businesses betrays the nation’s privacy laws, the scope and purpose of the Freedom of Information Act, fundamental fairness, and equal protection under the law.
Small business owners do not lose their rights simply because they engage in free enterprise , but governments do not always respect those rights. Our attorneys are skilled and passionate advocates against government overreach. If government misconduct threatens your business, please contact us today.