Immediately upon assuming office, the Trump administration directed the US Department of Agriculture to take down the extensive records of its publicly funded investigations of animal cruelty in America; now, Americans can only access their own data by paying for expensive, unweildy, and slow Freedom of Information Act requests to the USDA.
The agency claims it removed the records to protect the privacy of the persons named in them, but the records had always been redacted for this purpose prior to their publication on the USDA website.
Animal-rights groups are suing the USDA to reverse the policy and restore the records. Previously, the records have served as a critical source for investigative journalists who documents gruesome cruelty at zoos, labs, and in agribusiness.
The burden of making public a trove of information on animal welfare—how animals are suffering nationwide, who the perpetrators are, and where there may be holes in current legislation—now largely falls to third parties. Mother Jones’s West, whose story about the roadside zoo relied heavily on the USDA APHIS database, points out how cumbersome a task this will be for nonprofit watchdog organizations: “They're cash-strapped and overworked, and it shouldn't be their responsibility to be the reservoir of public information. It’s the government’s role.”
AZA’s Dan Ashe sees the USDA’s actions as a blow to accountability. If these records aren’t made readily available, “you can only really reach one conclusion, and that is that the public's ability to hold these institutions accountable will be diminished.”
Born Free’s Roberts agrees.
“Transparency is vital to democracy, and the USDA should reverse course and reopen access to information online,” he says. “I assume they will—unless they have something to hide.”
U.S. Animal Abuse Records Deleted—What We Stand to Lose [Natasha Daly/National Geographic]
(Image: Gestation crates, Farm Sanctuary, CC-BY)
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee put out a public call for suggestions on subjects it should investigate and one of the three winning pitches came from Stephanie Mathisen, campaigns and policy officer at Sense about Science, who suggested an inquiry into transparency in algorithmic decision-making.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation’s lawsuit against the DoJ has resulted in the release of documents showing that a bill with that was nearly unanimously supported in Congress and the Senate was killed by behind-the-scene lobbying by the Department of Justice, which feared that they would lose the ability to arbitrarily reject Freedom of […]
In the age of Internet, discussions about the federal government and its functions are informed by and rely on our unprecedented access to federal documents. Anyone can freely view public records online, such as proposed Congressional legislation and presidential executive orders. Accessing public court documents, however, is a bit trickier. As Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2011, “no aspect of government remains more locked down than the secretive, hierarchical judicial branch.”
When you can’t wait for the world’s longest meeting to end, the mindless leg bouncing makes your boredom obvious and just annoys everybody else. Everyone knows the TPS reports need the damn cover sheet, but some sadistic colleague keeps forgetting, probably on purpose just to eat into your lunch hour. Enough is enough!While serving a […]
What could be more fun than a slingshot that shoots tiny airplanes? A slingshot that shoots tiny glowing airplanes of course! These toy planes are outfitted with ultra-bright LEDs, so you can fly all night without losing them in the trees.Whether you are a regular-sized child, or an overgrown adult one, these light-up flyers offer […]
You know the drill. You go to the dentist and they ask you how often you floss. You lie through your teeth and say, “every day!” (Bonus points if you have some cilantro or chives stuck in your gums from lunch). You don’t want to keep up the charade any longer, but rubbing that tiny strand […]