Thursday, December 29, 2016

Auditor: Clean Air Commission ruling raises business privacy concerns

(From State Auditor Nicole Galloway)

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway has released the results of a review into whether the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Clean Water Commission will begin requesting confidential and proprietary financial information from businesses seeking operating permits, and whether the department has implemented safeguards to keep that information secure. Auditor Galloway initiated the review after being notified through the State Auditor's Whistleblower Hotline of new information being requested during the permitting process.

The Department of Natural Resources has not requested or required such financial documentation from any facility applying for a permit in the past, but indicated a change in process is possible following a Clean Water Commission decision issued earlier this year. The department stated privacy concerns would be considered during any potential future rule changes related to new requirements, which could, in some cases, include private businesses' tax records and proprietary business plan and asset documentation.

"Government agencies must exercise great care when implementing new regulations that impact Missouri businesses and industry, including the agriculture industry," Auditor Galloway said. "Careful consideration must be taken to ensure new regulatory policies advance the public interest and do not harm critical sectors of our economy through reckless or overly burdensome regulations."

The review found proprietary financial and business records submitted to the state could become subject to public disclosure. This disclosure of private information has the potential to endanger the competitiveness of business owners or operators. The process also raises the question of whether the government is prepared to properly protect sensitive and proprietary information from unnecessary disclosure and potentially damaging breaches of privacy.

Auditor Galloway recommended the department work with the General Assembly to ensure private financial and proprietary business information would remain properly protected before implementing the newly proposed regulations. A copy of the review information is available online here.

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