After a whirlwind of comments and criticisms, USDA has updated its statement regarding the abrupt deactivation of its Animal Care Search Tool, available here https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAAPHIS/bulletins/185b051.
Similar to statements published on interested parties’ websites, USDA confirmed that this decision was based on internal discussions and review that predated the new administration.
In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records.
USDA noted that the deactivation resulted not only based on guidance from the Department of Justice (see Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act and Overview of the Privacy Act), that provides a comprehensive review of litigation related to FOIA and the Privacy Act, but that their action was also related to litigation “APHIS is currently involved in . . . concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website.”
USDA/APHIS did not identify which litigation it referenced in its updated statement.
Like USDA, many federal agencies struggle to balance transparency with personal and business protections required by federal law.
Recently, PETA (largely) lost it’s lawsuit against HHS, alleging that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had impermissibly withheld information pursuant to PETA’s FOIA request “seeking records submitted by importers of nonhuman primates . . . to CDC pursuant to certain agency regulations.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, No. 15-cv-309, slip op. (D.D.C. January 5, 2017).
In the final Order, the Court granted Defendant’s Corrected Motion for Relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) holding:
“The four categories of information the Court previously held qualified for protection pursuant to FOIA Exemption 4 with respect to the records of seven objecting importers—quantity of animals imported, the descriptions of crates used in shipments, the names of the companies that export the animals, and the names of the airline carriers that transport the animals—also qualify for such protection with respect to the records of Central State Primate (‘CSP’), Dallas Zoo Management (‘DZM’), and SBNL USA (‘SNBL’). It is further ORDERED that Plaintiff’s  Cross-Motion for Relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) is GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART. Plaintiff’s motion is GRANTED in that information regarding the quantity of animals imported and the descriptions of crates used in shipments on the records of Worldwide Primates, Inc. (‘WWP’) and Primate Products Inc. (‘PPI’) does not qualify for protection pursuant to FOIA Exemption 4. Plaintiff’s motion is DENIED in all other respects. Id., slip op. (D.D.C. Feb. 6, 2017).”
PETA has appealed this decision.