Names of cotton subsidy recipients must be disclosed
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Washington Post can see the names and addresses of people who received payments under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s cotton price support program, a federal District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled in late October.
Reporter Sharon LaFraniere first requested information on the billion dollars distributed as cotton price supports in 1993. The agency denied her request, saying that many of the farmers’ business addresses were their home addresses and that disclosure would intrude upon their privacy.
Rejecting the government’s arguments that the personal privacy exemption to the Freedom of Information Act applied, Judge Paul Friedman said that the revelation that a farmer grows cotton is not a clearly unwarranted intrusion upon that individual’s personal privacy.
He also rejected the argument that disclosure of addresses would subject the farmers to “an unwanted barrage of mailings.” Even if disclosure of the addresses of farms where cotton is grown and subsidies are received would subject farmers to circulars from advertisers of farm machinery and other goods, the farmers could handle that mail with “equanimity,” he said.
Although disclosure of the amount of a farmer’s subsidy might reveal how much cotton he or she grew, the judge noted, he was “unable to discern” how any of this “relatively generic information” could lead to clearly unwarranted invasions of personal privacy.
The government also argued that disclosure would subject the farmers to unwanted media attention, but, quoting from an earlier case, the judge said that inquiry by news media is not the sort of invasion of privacy envisioned by the personal privacy exemption. (The Washington Post v. U.S. Department of Agriculture; Media Attorney: Pat Carome, Washington, D.C.)