One of the many tools NAVS relies on for tracking abuse in Animal Welfare Act-regulated research institutions is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This is particularly true since the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) removed its online database of information last year.
Since then, APHIS has restored some of its records, but has suggested that individuals file a FOIA request when looking for specific information. So NAVS has done just that. In July 2017, NAVS asked APHIS to provide a “list of the USDA licensees that had the most direct violations of the AWA based on inspections that have taken place within the past 12 months.”
On April 30, 2018, more than nine months after our initial request, APHIS finally sent its response.
In its reply, the information APHIS provided was almost entirely redacted. APHIS stated that they “have determined that the protection against potential harassment, possible threats, and the overall invasion of personal privacy far outweighs any public interest in revealing their personal information.” See the graphic above for an example of the response to NAVS.
This “personal information” refers to the name of a licensee under the Animal Welfare Act, where they are located, when they were inspected and any results of that inspection. In fact, “personal information” as defined by APHIS seems to include any pertinent information by which an individual or group could discover whether this licensee is complying with federal law.
This now-redacted and hence unavailable information was readily available on the APHIS search tool until February 2017, and it was done so without these licensees facing threats, harassment or any other consequence—except for the fact that concerned individuals and groups had information about how they were conducting business.
APHIS clearly has no intention of restoring this data without a clear and unambiguous act of Congress.
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