Congress

Should Congress protect agricultural data?

Shutterstock. Copyright: auremar 

Sensors, smart equipment and other new technologies are revolutionizing the way agricultural data is collected and analyzed, which can make operations more efficient, improve forecasting and allow for more sustainable practices.

However, the rise in data collection and sharing is now raising questions about the control of farm-related data and the agreements between farmers and big ag companies. Some experts say Congress needs to play a role.

"While agricultural technology making use of data grows at an exponential rate, technology and policies for protecting data has not," said Shannon L. Ferrell, associate professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University, at a Nov. 14 hearing of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security of the Senate Commerce Committee.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act created standards for electronic healthcare and mandated companies strengthen health data and privacy protections, Ferrell said. But there are no similar protections for agricultural data.

The concern is that farmers could lose control of their data or access to their data, because of agreements with technology providers.

"Every farmer has a right to access and use their data, regardless of where it came from or what system contains it. We should encourage the flow of information that could help farmers -- and their trusted advisors -- to make better-informed decisions about their businesses and food production," said Farmobile CEO Jason G. Tatge. "Farmers need policies that safeguard their data rights, and allow interoperability and accessibility to drive efficiencies and innovation in food production."

Todd Janzen, an attorney specializing in agricultural law, told the committee that farmers are also concerned that they might not benefit from downstream uses of their data in applications and tools produced by tech companies. Farmers are also leery of technolgy firms leveraging data "to gain an unfair advantage in the marketplace," he said. Janzen's firm offers a seal of approval to agricultural technology providers that meet 10 data transparency benchmarks.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he worried that advances in data have raised questions about who owns data, suggesting that current standards for privacy protestions may not meet the demands of this special case.

While any legislative remedy is a long way off, Ferrell suggested that preliminary efforts could focus on a clear definition of agricultural data.

"It's not health data under HIPAA, it's not financial data under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It's something unique unto itself that may deserve efforts to actually define what those protections should be," Shannon said.

About the Author

Ben Berliner is an editorial fellow at FCW. He is a 2017 graduate of Kenyon College, and has interned at the Center for Responsive Politics and at Sunlight Foundation.

He can be contacted at bberliner@fcw.com.

Click here for previous articles by Berliner.


Featured

  • Telecommunications
    Stock photo ID: 658810513 By asharkyu

    GSA extends EIS deadline to 2023

    Agencies are getting up to three more years on existing telecom contracts before having to shift to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle.

  • Workforce
    Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

    OMB looks to retrain feds to fill cyber needs

    The federal government is taking steps to fill high-demand, skills-gap positions in tech by retraining employees already working within agencies without a cyber or IT background.

  • Acquisition
    GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

    GSA to consolidate multiple award schedules

    The General Services Administration plans to consolidate dozens of its buying schedules across product areas including IT and services to reduce duplication.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.