Letter to the Editor

Nightmare system

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dear Editor,

The National Animal Identification System is a humongous bureaucratic nightmare thought up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the help of some of its closest friends.

The plan is to monitor the movement of all animals with the stated purpose to be able to track a foreign animal disease outbreak within 48 hours. Of course, no one seems to mention that those who would benefit the most economically from knowing where every animal in the United States is at any given time could also have access to this information. 

According to an Associated Press story posted Thursday, June 22, a hacker broke into the USDA's computer system and may have obtained names, Social Security numbers and photos of 26,000 Washington-area employees and contractors.

The break-in happened during the first weekend in June. The information was used for staff, contractor and media badges in Washington and the surrounding area. Just use your imagination to see how this information could be used by terrorists or even just a disgruntled farmer!

This hacking job is not the first to affect the safe, secure data of the US government. 

As many as 26.5 million people may have been affected by the theft of a laptop computer containing Veterans Affairs information including Social Security numbers and birth dates. The computer was taken from the home of a VA employee. Officials waited nearly three weeks before notifying veterans of the theft.

How long would it take USDA officials to notify politically unimportant farmers of the theft of their personal information?

The information requested for premise identification includes personal information such as social security number, 911 address, exact location coordinates accessible through a global positioning satellite, etc. Some farmers in Nebraska have even been enticed to share this personal information with NAIS for the price of a pair of pliers!      

In early June, the Health and Human Services Department discovered that personal information for nearly 17,000 Medicare beneficiaries may have been compromised when an insurance company employee called up the data through a hotel computer and then failed to delete the file. How easily could this happen with NAIS? 

Lastly, Social Security numbers and other information for nearly 1,500 people working for the National Nuclear Security Administration may have been compromised when a hacker gained entry to an Energy Department computer system last fall. Officials said June 12 they had learned only recently of the breach. 

National Animal Identification has some major flaws -- not the least of which is the inability to keep the information, all of it, out of the hands of hackers. Surely the big four beef packers would love to have access to NAIS information to help them control the beef industry just as they currently do the hog and poultry producers.

Be real careful what you are willing to give away for a pair of pliers!

Pam Potthoff

Women Involved in Farm Economics


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